Hekia Parata

The Honourable
Hekia Parata
45th Minister of Education
Assumed office
Prime Minister John Key
Preceded by Anne Tolley
Minister of Ethnic Affairs
In office
Prime Minister John Key
Preceded by Pansy Wong
Succeeded by Judith Collins
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for National Party List
Assumed office
Personal details
Born (1958-11-01) 1 November 1958
Nationality New Zealand
Political party National Party
Spouse(s) Sir Wira Gardiner
Relations Arnold Reedy (grandfather)
Tame Parata (great-great-grandfather)
Residence Wellington
Alma mater University of Waikato
Occupation Public servant, politician

Patricia Hekia Parata (born 1 November 1958) is a New Zealand politician and member of the House of Representatives of New Zealand, having been elected to parliament in the 2008 general election. She is a member of the New Zealand National Party and serves as the Minister of Education in the Fifth National Government.

Life and career prior to Parliament

Born and raised in Ruatoria, Parata shares Scottish, Irish, English, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Porou ancestry. She was one of eight children to her mother, Hīria Te Kiekie Reedy of Ngāti Porou. Her maternal grandfather was Arnold Reedy.[1] Her father, Ron Parata, was of Ngāi Tahu and was raised in Puketeraki, near Dunedin. He served in the Māori Battalion and was a teacher and then principal at Ngata Memorial College in Ruatoria. Tame Parata, a member of parliament from 1885 to 1911, was Hekia Parata's great-great-grandfather.[2] One of Parata's sisters, Nori, is principal at Tolaga Bay Area School.

Parata attended the University of Waikato, where she graduated with a Master of Arts. While at Waikato, she served as President of the Waikato Student Union in 1980. She was also a Senior Executive Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Parata was a Youth Representative at the first Hui Taumata held in 1984.[3]

Parata joined the National Party in August 2001.[4] During the Springbok rugby tour of 1981 Parata took an active part in protests including the protest at Rugby Park in Hamilton, which ended in a pitch invasion that stopped a rugby test. She claimed that a plaster cast stopped her getting on the field.[5]

Public servant

She initially pursued a career in the state sector, eventually becoming Deputy chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Maori Development.[6][7] She also served on the boards of NZ On Air (a broadcasting funding authority)[8] and the Ngai Tahu Development Corporation. Later, she moved into the private sector, establishing Gardiner and Parata Ltd, a small consultancy firm.

Parata's name was connected to an investigation by the State Services Commissioner Don Hunn into the improper use of public funds in the purchase of two vehicles for her partner (and at that time Te Puni Kōkiri chief executive) Wira Gardiner in 1995. Parata's name was on the purchase orders issued by the Ministry, although it eventually became known that the cars were paid by and for Mr Gardiner at the time of purchase. The investigation cleared both Gardiner and Parata of any illegal activity, and the cars were returned to the Ministry for re-sale at a Government auction.[9]

In 1997, Parata was appointed by Prime Minister Jim Bolger as a member of the Towards 2000 Taskforce, to "advise the Government on the appropriate "vision", events for the [millennium] celebrations and national projects of lasting public benefit".[10]

Parata's consultancy firm was contracted to recommend the best options for providing "ongoing high quality Maori advice" to chief executive Christine Rankin and senior managers at Work and Income in 1999, at a cost of $207,500. The expenditure was criticised by Green MP Rod Donald, as the Māori unemployment rate rose during this period from 27 to 29%.[11] The firm also attracted controversy when National MP Murray McCully criticised the spending of $240,000 by the Ministry of Economic Development for training courses on the Treaty of Waitangi run by the company in 2003.[12]

In 2001, Parata was appointed to the Māori Television Service Board.[13] She resigned within two months, reportedly blaming a "lack of funding" for the new Maori TV channel.[14][15]

Appointment of her sister

In February 2012, one of Parata's sisters, Apryll, was appointed as deputy secretary at the Ministry of Education.[16] Apryll's role makes her responsible for "performance and change", and gives her responsibility for making key decisions within the ministry. Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff said the promotion "would have seemed more legitimate if the role had already existed".[17]

Political career

2002 general election

Parata was selected as the National Party candidate in the Wellington Central electorate for the 2002 general election, the first time the party had run a candidate in the electorate since the 1996 election. The campaign was managed by her husband, Wira Gardiner. Receiving 10,725 votes, she came second to incumbent Labour MP Marian Hobbs by 4,181 votes.[18] In spite of Parata's presence in the race, the party vote in the electorate dropped to 56% of their 1999 result (or 19.9% of votes cast), mirroring that of the National party vote result nationwide. Having failed to win the electorate, and the National Party's 20.93% result on the nationwide party vote meant that Parata did not enter Parliament as a list MP.

Parata wrote a chapter describing her experience as the candidate in New Zealand votes: the general election of 2002, a review of the election.[4]

Don Brash leadership of the National Party

Main article: Orewa Speech

In a speech given by the National Party leader Don Brash to the Orewa Rotary Club on 27 January 2004, he spoke on the perceived "Māori racial separatism" in New Zealand. The speech, while being suggested as the main reason for a major surge in public support for the National Party (after their 2002 election provided the party's worst ever result), was displeasing to Parata and other Maori members of the National Party. Parata was reported as saying "this is taking the party back to the past. The views expressed [in the speech] marginalise New Zealand into a small island of rednecks".[19] Nevertheless, Parata did not leave National and Brash was eventually replaced as leader of National (after quitting as leader) in 2006 by John Key.

Parata's husband Wira Gardiner described the situation for him and Parata during this period in a 2008 interview: "We seriously contemplated whether the National Party was ever going to be the party for us...but in the end we didn't abandon it, we just went to sleep for a while."[20] Reflecting back on this period in 2010, Parata said: "I didn't consider them wilderness years; I had a particular disagreement with a particular person and his outlook at the time."[21]

2008 general election

Having neither appeared as a candidate for an electorate, nor on the National Party list for the 2005 general election, Parata returned to politics, being selected as the National Party candidate in the Mana electorate for the 2008 election.[22] Although losing to the incumbent Labour MP Winnie Laban, she performed better than the National Party candidate in the 2005 election, Chris Finlayson, as well as an increased party vote percentage from three years previously.[23]

In spite of the electorate result, Parata was elected to Parliament as a list MP, having been ranked 36 on the National Party List.[24]

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
20082011 49th List 36 National
20112014 50th List 18 National
2014present 51st List 7 National

In her maiden speech, Parata alluded to her great-great-grandfather Tame Parata, who was an MP in the Southern Maori electorate for the Liberal Party from 1885 to 1911, in addition to her tupuna (ancestor) Apirana Ngata:

"I enter Parliament and begin this phase of my public service journey proud to follow in the footsteps of these ancestors in the pursuit of quality citizenship for all. They provide a model that I am glad to emulate: unambiguously Ngati Porou and Ngai Tahu; unequivocally a New Zealander...As I stand before you today, I am at once conscious of the weight of history and expectation that press upon me, and the lightness of possibilities that beckon. I am familiar with this dichotomy – I have grown up in a culture that walks through the present, with the constant companions of the past and the future."

She has had an Out of Parliament office in the electorate (in the Mana suburb) since becoming an MP.[25]

2010 Mana by-election

On 10 August 2010, Labour MP Luamanuvao Winnie Laban announced that she would resign from Parliament to take up a position as an Assistant Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington, leading to a by-election in the Mana electorate.

Parata was the sole nomination for the National Party, winning the nomination without contest.[26] Parata received 41% of all votes cast, an increase of 6% from the 2008 election, where she was also the candidate. Although she lost to Kris Faafoi by 1406 votes,[27] the result was seen as a strong performance from Parata.

2011 general election

Parata announced her intentions to stand again in the Mana electorate for the 2011 general election, suggesting that her failure to win the seat in two attempts is 'unfinished business'.[28] However, the seat was retained by Kris Faafoi, with a slightly increased majority of 2,230.[29]

Minister in Fifth National Government

In December 2010, it was announced that Parata would take over the cabinet positions formerly held by Pansy Wong (after her resignation from Cabinet coming soon after a scandal emerged involving the use of taxpayer funded travel)[30] including the Women's and Ethnic Affairs portfolios, as well as taking up the newly created Associate Ministerial portfolios of Energy and Community & Voluntary sector. In February 2011, Parata became the acting Minister of Energy and Resources, relieving Gerry Brownlee to concentrate on his role as Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery after the catastrophic February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.[31]

Minister of Education

Parata was appointed as Minister of Education following the 2011 general election,[32] succeeding Anne Tolley. She was expected to implement the National Government's plans to improve the quality of teaching and shake up the sector – but got into difficulty almost immediately. She introduced proposals to increase class sizes, which it was subsequently claimed would cause some intermediate schools to lose up to nine teachers.[33] As a result of intense public backlash over the issue, the plan was abandoned soon after it was introduced.[34] Parata also had to negotiate the introduction of charter schools[35] as part of National's confidence-and-supply agreement with John Banks.

In September 2012, she announced that she planned to close or merge 31 schools in Christchurch and the surrounding Waimakariri and Selwyn districts. Twenty-two of the schools said the information on which the Ministry based its decision to justify the proposed closures was incorrect.[36] In February 2013, Parata confirmed the Government would close seven Christchurch schools due to falling roll numbers and earthquake damage, in addition to two that had already closed voluntarily.[37] Twelve schools would also be merged into six.

Each of these proposals was met with staunch opposition from affected parties and led to media speculation about Parata's performance and abilities.[38] The NZEI which represents primary school teachers, said she was "living in a fantasy world".[39]

Parata also oversaw the introduction of the controversial Novopay payroll system which cost $30 million and was supposed to streamline payments to teachers and school staff.[40] It had the exact opposite effect – with thousands of teachers receiving either too much, too little or not being paid at all. It was later revealed that the Ministry spent $650,000 trialling the system. It was rolled out nationally even though more than half of the 731 trial-users felt they were not ready for the system to go live.[40] Along the way, Parata fell out with newly recruited education secretary Lesley Longstone, who was forced to resign over the debacle. There were calls for Parata to follow suit.[38] In 2013, The Dominion Post revealed 'internal office tensions' among her staff; several private secretaries and a senior adviser have left her office in the Beehive. Her senior private secretary resigned just before Christmas and the advisor was only two months into a two-year secondment. At least one Beehive staff member has issued a personal grievance claim.[41]

New Zealand Herald commentator Audrey Young said "Parata came in with high expectations about how to lift student achievement, but an unrealistic view of what the Ministry of Education was capable of doing". She believes Parata was ill-prepared for the role as Education Minister pointing out that she had never spent even one day in opposition – let alone as opposition spokesperson for education.[16]

After surviving a Cabinet reshuffle in January 2013 that saw two of her ministerial colleagues dumped, Parata said she had made "one or two mistakes".[42] However, Mr Key removed responsibility for managing the Novopay system from Parata, giving that job to Steven Joyce. Political commentator Bryce Edwards suggested she only kept her job because she was a "relatively attractive... Maori woman".[43] A One News Colmar Brunton poll in February 2013 saw 59% of those surveyed believe the Prime Minister made the wrong decision by keeping Parata on.[44]

Retirement from politics

In October 2016, Hekia Parata announced that she will not seek reelection at the 2017 election and will retire from politics [45]

Private life

Parata is married to former professional soldier, senior public servant and author Sir Wira Gardiner. Hence, she is formally styled Lady Gardiner. They met while they worked together at the Ministry of Maori Development, Te Puni Kōkiri.[20] They have two children together and three stepchildren from Gardiner's previous marriage to former MP Pauline Gardiner.[46]


  1. Parata, Hekia (9 December 2008). "Maiden statements". New Zealand National Party. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  2. Calman, Matt (July 2011). "Taking sides" (PDF). Te Karaka. Christchurch: Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (50): 18–19. ISSN 1173-6011.
  3. Dominion Post, 26 February 2005, "HUI TAUMATA" Nick Venter.
  4. 1 2 Boston, Jonathan; Church, Stephen; Levine, Stephen; McLeay, Elizabeth; Roberts, Nigel S. New Zealand votes: the general election of 2002. p. 152.
  5. Matthews, Philip (6 October 2012). "Hekia Parata: Tough Lessons | Stuff.co.nz". The Press. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  6. "New post for Parata". Dominion Post. 11 May 2004.
  7. "Te Puni Kokiri Deputy Secretaries Appointed" (Press release). Te Puni Kōkiri. 11 May 2004.
  8. "New Chair For NZ on Air" (Press release). New Zealand Government. 8 May 2002.
  9. MacKenzie, Jonathan (8 August 1996). "Gardiner cleared over deal on discount cars". The Dominion.
  10. Bain, Helen (30 July 1997). "NZ will lead world into 2000, says Bolger". The Dominion.
  11. Cardy, Tom (3 September 1999). "WINZ blasted over payment". Evening Post.
  12. Young, Audrey (21 April 2003). "Treaty course bill $240,000". The New Zealand Herald.
  13. Lawrence, Hannah (11 September 2001). "Four appointed to Maori TV board". Dominion Post.
  14. "Maori TV resignation". Evening Post [NZ]. 24 October 2001.
  15. Beattie, Simon (30 April 2002). "Maori TV loses another director". Evening Post [NZ].
  16. 1 2 Leap-frog minister in a class of her own
  17. Minister's sister on rise
  18. "Official Count Results – Wellington Central". Chief Electoral Office, Wellington. 2002.
  19. Haines, Leah (2 February 2004). "Back me or quit Brash tells te Heuheu". Dominion Post.
  20. 1 2 Roughan, John (20 November 2008). "A word with... Wira Gardiner". The New Zealand Herald.
  21. Watkins, Tracy (7 December 2010). "Out of the wilderness and into Cabinet for new list MP". Dominion Post.
  22. Farrar, David. "More candidates".
  23. "Official Count Results – Mana". Chief Electoral Office, Wellington. 2008.
  24. "National's list promotes strength and diversity" (Press release). New Zealand National Party. 17 August 2008.
  25. "Hekia Parata – Mana Office Opening". Flickr Images.
  26. Andrea Vance (8 September 2010). "Hekia Parata to contest Mana byelection". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
  27. "Official Count Results – Mana By-Election". Chief Electoral Office, Wellington. 2010.
  28. "Parata rewarded for strong showing in Mana". 3 News NZ. 26 August 2009. Retrieved 2010-12-06.
  29. "Official Count Results – Electorate Status". Electoral Commission. 10 December 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  30. Fowler, Nina (14 December 2010). "Pansy Wong Resigns". National Business Review.
  31. Key, John (24 February 2011). "PM reallocates portfolios to put focus on quake". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  32. "Hekia Parata discusses new roles after Key's Cabinet reshuffle". 3 News NZ. 12 December 2011.
  33. We can learn from battle over class size, says PM NZ Herald 12 June 2012
  34. "Parata defends class size backdown". 3 News NZ. 8 June 2012.
  35. Women move up the Govt ranks
  36. Christchurch schools claim merger data incorrect TV3, 2 October 2012
  37. "7 Chch school closures confirmed". 3 News NZ. 18 February 2013.
  38. 1 2 Editorial: Parata lucky to stay after year of errors
  39. "Education changes: bigger classes, performance pay". 3 News NZ. 16 May 2012.
  40. 1 2 Govt spent more than $1m on consultants for Novopay system NZ Herald 20 December 2012
  41. Parata's high staff turnover queried
  42. "Parata acknowledges mistakes made". Stuff.co.nz. 24 January 2013.
  43. "Edwards: Why Parata kept her job". 3 News NZ. 25 January 2013.
  44. Parata should have gone, says poll
  45. https://www.bing.com/search?q=hekia+parata+to+leave+politics&form=EDGEAR&qs=PF&cvid=bb864e1415ca4099a25dac71cf12bae0&pq=hekia+parata+to+leave+politics
  46. "Outstanding leader graduates from Police College" (Press release). New Zealand Police. 17 February 2010.
Political offices
Preceded by
Pansy Wong
Minister of Ethnic Affairs
Succeeded by
Judith Collins
Minister of Women's Affairs
Succeeded by
Jo Goodhew
Preceded by
Anne Tolley
Minister of Education
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