Around 250 students and supporters from Kawerau Intermediate arrived at Parliament today to protest against the planned closure of the Intermediate. Anne Tolley, the Minister of Education, has signalled she intends to close the Intermediate as well as Kawerau North School and Kawerau Central School. Kawerau will continue to be serviced by Kawerau South School (which will become a full primary school when the other three schools close) and Putauaki Full Primary School (my old school).
Now, Kawerau schools need to be reorganised. Structural change is needed sooner rather than later. There are not enough kids in the town to sustain four separate primary schools and two separate intermediate schools. Something has to give and the people of Kawerau accept that. However, what the protestors, and by extension the people of Kawerau, do not accept is the autocratic manner in which the Minister has made her decision. Anne Tolley made a number of assurances that any decision will be made in light of the feedback received from the community. This was an outright lie. Over 70% of the adult population in Kawerau signed a petition to retain the Intermediate, the local Council submitted in favour of retaining the Intermediate and most importantly the kids themselves have made it painfully clear that they want an intermediate school. However, the Minister appears not to appreciate any of this and has signalled she intends to close the Intermediate.
The protest itself was incredibly impressive. The children were disciplined but vocal, the speeches were articulate and reasoned and the entire group was well organised. I have to acknowledge the brilliant speech made by the Intermediate Principal, Daryl Aim, his delivery was so, so powerful and the message was perfect. I particularly enjoyed an observation he made during the protest. He commented that he saw two New Zealands today. One New Zealand was epitomised by his kids (the Intermediate kids) while the other was epitomised by a group of private school girls passing through in their “beautiful blazers”. One New Zealand has it all, including the sympathy and the ear of the current government, the other New Zealand has nothing. No prizes for guessing which is which. I thought his point illustrated a larger theme – the Nat’s are governing for their own. They don’t give a shit about poor communities and Maori communities. Some of the parents and kaumatua also delivered excellent speeches. Everyone was incredibly articulate. Not bad for a bunch wage workers from the provinces I thought.
The kids had their lines and chants prepared as well and they didn’t miss a cue. They knew what to say and when to say it and, to my surprise, they were actually listening and understood what the politicians were talking about. They knew when to cheer when a one of the politicians spoke in support and when to groan when one spoke against.
Quite a few MP’s came out to meet the hikoi. Kelvin Davis, Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones and Steve Chadwick from Labour, Catherine Delahunty from the Greens, local MP Te Ururoa Flavell and Tariana Turia from the Maori Party, Hone Harawira and local MP Todd McClay, Tau Henare and Paul Quinn from National. Davis and Chadwick delivered well received speeches. In my opinion Chadwick just cemented the Kawerau vote. Te Ururoa Flavell also spoke, but in Maori, and the reception was mixed (sorry, my te reo is negligible so I can’t tell you what he said). Todd McClay also spoke and the reception was cold. A few people heckled, but Todd handled himself well I thought. To be fair, Todd always listens to the community, the problem is his influence is limited and he is in no position to defy Anne Tolley. Catherine Delahunty was given a warm reception and delivered a speech in support of the Intermediate. By that time most of the MP’s had left bar Chadwick, Davis, Hone and Delahunty. A number of people in the roopu then started to call on Hone to speak and when he came forward there was a roar. There is no doubt that he was the man everyone wanted to hear from. Te Ururoa should be nervous. It goes to show that Waiariki is now behind Hone and Te Mana.
The protest then concluded and a small party went to meet the Minister. I hope it went well. The only MP’s to hang around were Kelvin Davis, who to his credit went through and acknowledged every single protestor with a kia ora and a hongi, Steve Chadwick also remained and moved through the group talking with the kids and parents, Hone stayed as well and spoke with some of the protestors.
The Intermediate sent a strong message today. They want to retain their school. Unfortunately, the chances of swaying the Minister are slim at best (she refused to meet the hikoi when it arrived at the steps of Parliament). But then again I don’t know. The pressure is on though. The protest is currently the lead story on nzherald.co.nz (Derek Cheng was reporting from the protest), Radio New Zealand was also present and so to was John Campbell from TV3 and two reporters from Maori TV. Anne Tolley will release her final decision on June 1. I hope she makes the right one.