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James Shaw On Green School

Kia ora koutou katoa. Thank you for joining me.

On Wednesday last week I announced as Associate Finance Minister that the Government would support a shovel-ready construction project at the Green School in Taranaki.

The decision I made to support this project was an error of judgement, for which I apologise.

If I was making the same decision again, I would not support this project.

***

Over the last few days I have read countless emails and seen people’s comments on social media.

I have heard from teachers, principals, and parents.

And I’ve met with a wide range of organisations, including the PPTA, NZEI, and the Principals Association.

I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write, call, or meet with me in person.

I want you to know that I have reflected on your concerns and I am acting on them.

***

As a politician, admitting you were wrong is one of the hardest things to do.

We’re expected to be infallible. So much so that we can forget that people prefer their leaders to be honest and compassionate.

Becoming a Minister means being willing to question your decisions in public and, if necessary, correct them.

That is what I am doing.

***

But first, I want to provide some background as to how we got here.

***

Over the last few months this Government has set aside $3 billion for infrastructure projects in order to help guide New Zealand through the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every dollar we have invested we have invested to create jobs.

Jobs that provide people with a good day’s pay, doing meaningful work building a better future for New Zealand.

One of the sectors most at risk as a result of the downturn is infrastructure and construction.

So, what we have done is connect as many ready-to-work New Zealanders as possible with ready-to-be-filled jobs - and in doing so, help people maintain the stability and security that a good job brings their families.

This also help boost local economies. Because when more people are in work, more money is directed into the parts of the economy where most people earn their livelihood.

Whether it is selling food in a café, running a local business providing services to the community, or providing after-school care, these are the parts of the economy that are sustained when public investment is directed at getting people into work and earning money that they then spend in their local communities.

***

When the Mayor of New Plymouth first told me about the Green School, what I saw was an opportunity to employ hundreds of people on an environmentally friendly building project in the area of the country impacted most by our Government’s decision to switch to clean sources of energy.

These are the reasons why the Green School was supported.

But no excuses. It was a mistake.

***

One of the questions I have been asked most over the past few days is this:

“Why is the Government providing support for construction at the Green School when there are public schools all over the country with leaky roofs, mouldy classrooms, and not enough books on the shelves?”

It’s a fair question. But let’s be clear about why it is a fair question.

The previous National Government left children all over the country learning in schools and classrooms that were run down and cold.

So, if you work at, or send your children to, a school that was systematically underfunded for the nine years National were in power, then, yes, you are going to be angry.

And rightfully so.

***

Our Government is investing nearly two billion dollars to upgrade our schools and deal with deferred maintenance and start building new schools.

We are also helping schools switch to clean, climate-friendly ways of keeping children warm and the lights on.

Every dollar of this investment is about ensuring future generations of students and teachers get the schools they deserve.

But, underlying much of the disappointment people have felt over the last few days is the fact this money is not getting into communities quickly enough.

Teachers are looking around their classrooms and still seeing sagging walls and mould on their roofs.

This needs to change.

***

If these last few days have shown us anything it’s that New Zealanders are incredibly passionate about their public education system.

The Green Party shares that passion.

Our decade’s long commitment to public education has not changed.

We are as clear as ever that a well-funded public education is the most effective way to give our children the best possible start in life.

The concerns people have raised about the Government’s support for the Green School is as much about the decision itself as it is about what kind of New Zealand people want for the future.

A New Zealand where every child, no matter where they are from, has access to the best possible education in the communities that they call home.

A New Zealand where public education harnesses the talents of all our children.

A New Zealand where public education is the route through which we address the vast inequities that we see all across the country.

***

These are the issues that are at stake when we talk about education in New Zealand.

And these are the issues that the Green Party is, and always have been, equal to.

And, at the end of the day, these issues are bigger than being seen to apologise, or losing a 48 hour news cycle.

***

Progress towards our better future demands tough choices. Not every one of those choices is going to be the right one.

So, again I apologise.

I apologise to parents, teachers and unions.

I apologise to Green Party members who have been working tirelessly in their communities to make sure the Greens are part of the next Government – and have felt demoralised by this decision.

I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who, rightfully, want the best for their children.

I want you all to know that I have listened to your concerns.

My understanding is that the Green School has approached representatives of the Crown to find a solution.

These discussions can take time, and whatever you think of the process, Ministers cannot insert themselves in commercial negotiations.

But I hope that everyone involved will take the time to reflect how strongly people feel about this and take these views into account in those discussions.

My personal view is that the best way to do this is that support for the Green School to come in the form of a loan, rather than a grant. That would ensure the money is paid back in full.

***

One thing I have always believe is when you make a mistake you should learn from it for the future.

Then you regroup and redirect your energy into making positive change happen.

And you go forward.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

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