Green School saga: Hipkins disputes Shaw's version of their conversation

Author
Audrey Young, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Sep 2020, 5:20PM
Education Minister Chris Hipkins, watched on by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Chris Hipkins, watched on by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Green School saga: Hipkins disputes Shaw's version of their conversation

Author
Audrey Young, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Sep 2020, 5:20PM

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has disputed claims by Greens co-leader James Shaw that Hipkins gave a "verbal sign-off" to $11.7 million going to the private Taranaki Green School for a building project.

Hipkins said today that that would "mischaracterise" their conversation about the school - which is not related to the Green Party.

The claim that Hipkins had verbally signed off the controversial grant has been revealed by RNZ in a video it obtained of the Green Party meeting held via Zoom last Friday night.

In it Shaw tells Green Party members: "Chris [Hipkins] is not one of the Budget ministers so he was not intimately involved in the decision because it wasn't going through Vote Education and it wouldn't go through Vote Education because Vote Education doesn't fund this kind of thing.

"He did say that assuming everything else being equal that as long as the funding partner is the [Taranaki District] council, which it is, that he was okay with it.

"So he did sort of give at least a verbal sign-off to the project."

Speaking to reporters at Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara, Hipkins said he had been very public about the conversations he had had with Shaw.

"I said quite clearly to him that it was not a priority for us from an educational perspective and that if it was being considered through a different process, then that was a matter for a different process but I was not involved in that."

Asked specifically about Shaw's claim to several hundred Green Party members that Hipkins had given verbal sign-off, Hipkins said: "No, look I think that would mis-characterise the conversation."

A spokeswoman for Shaw said that he stood by his commentary on the Zoom call to party members "and continues to feel supported by caucus and the membership".

National finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson knew that funding the school was wrong but they had let it happen anyway.

"We're in the biggest economic crisis in a generation … yet this Government is more focused on sharing the political wins between Government parties than in achieving the best results with limited resources."

The project was signed off as one of the "shovel-ready" projects eligible for part of the $3 billion infrastructure fund to help economic stimulus in the wake of Covid-19.

It was signed off by Robertson, Associate Finance Minister David Parker, New Zealand First Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones, and Shaw as Associate Finance Minister.

The decision has infuriated Green Party members because the party opposes public funding of private schools and Shaw has apologised widely and profusely for his "error of judgment" over the matter.

The Opposition has also made much of further revelations of an August 7 email from Shaw's office to the other ministers, obtained by Newshub, saying Shaw would not sign several other projects until the Green School in Taranaki was incorporated in the list.

The Opposition has said that amounts to holding the Government to ransom.

There were at least 44 delayed projects with Government funding totalling $600 million.