It’s not every day that the highest profile public servant, the chief executive of one of our biggest Government departments, stands down, a week before Christmas, and after a year in which her department was almost never out of the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons.
The resignation of a public service chief under fire is a big deal, and represents a major day in the career of their responsible Government Minister as they stand before the nation asserting control over their ministry, and assuring the public they have it fully under control as they outline the plan for moving forward.
But when Lesley Longstone stood down yesterday, her Minister Hekia Parata had literally disappeared into thin air. Who knows where Ms Parata actually is? But as everyone by now does know, she chose yesterday to start six weeks of annual holidays.
Clearly Minister Parata is running away from the attention that would fall on her, and the inevitable calls for her to step down too after overseeing an historically shambolic year in education. It must be a pretty yucky time to be Hekia Parata.
But it is patently ridiculous that she was not there to front Ms Longstone’s resignation, and it is a comprehensive dereliction of duty for her to fly off the radar at such a crucial time in her portfolio. She is a government minister for goodness sake.
It is also profoundly cynical of John Key to announce he has confidence in Ms Parata in the midst of all this.
Its cynical because we all know he doesn’t’ mean it. That he’s hoping that a nice long break will take the heat off him and her, and when the National MPs return in late January he can use the cabinet reshuffle to quietly shift her sideways and down a bit.
This is about playing to media cycles, and exploiting the silly season, to meet his political ends.
An honest Minister would have taken the heat yesterday.
And an honest Prime Minister would not have expressed confidence in her while blatantly undermining that by allowing her to slink out the back door.