Education minister Anne Tolley may be used to facing protests from school teachers, but on Friday night it was a group of school children shouting and jeering at her (Kawerau Intermediate students and supporters).
The youngsters’ anger and frustration appeared close to boiling over into a direct confrontation at the meeting’s conclusion at 9.20pm, with their attempts to get the minister to explain her actions being stymied.
Mrs Tolley declined to answer a question posed by pupil Kunere Timoti about why she had decided to close the school “when you did not even visit it”. Her response that she was unable to comment on the issue because it had entered a 28-day legal process proved far from satisfactory for the assembled school crowd – and when the meeting’s chairman Mark Longley pulled the plug soon after, it appeared the pupils were on the verge of breaking into a spontaneous haka or finding some other way to vent their anger.
Although there are legitimate questions around Tolley’s refusal to visit Kawerau and front the Intermediate supporters, it is the height of arrogance for those supporters to gate crash a meeting for East Coast voters. Kawerau is part of the Rotorua electorate. The Intermediate supporters have no right to barge into a candidates meeting for East Coast voters, emphasis on East Coast voters, and demand Tolley’s attention and, in the process, distract her from issues that affect the East Coast electorate. This was not an appropriate venue for the Intermediate supporters to attend. Tolley’s first obligation in the above situation is to her electorate. Her obligation to the Intermediate supporters is secondary. The story continues:
Some of the now-shirtless youngsters gathered on the driveway outside the church in an apparent bid to confront Mrs Tolley as she was leaving. However the minister and her supporters remained inside the church.
The caregivers, evidently anxious to avoid an incident involving their charges and no doubt aware it had already been a late night for them, quickly herded them back onto an awaiting school bus for transport back to Kawerau.
Good one. Now you’ve made Kawerau look like a town of nutters. This was my biggest worry when I heard the school was putting on some buses and ferrying their supporters and students to the meeting. I was afraid some one would lose it or, as appears to have happened, a few of the kids have lost it and further damaged the already dim view many people hold of Kawerau.
Which brings me to another point. Why were the kids there anyway? What useful purpose do they serve? Other than to add an emotional element to what should be a dispassionate debate. I think it is tantamount to child abuse that the Intermediate supporters keep using these kids, especially their headboy, in an attempt to garner sympathy.
The Intermediate supporters seem to have cultivated a lot of anger in these kids and that’s unacceptable. Tolley’s going to close the school and what are these kids going to do with that anger when that happens. Smash something up? Rob a house? Tag? Misbehave with their parents?
Anyway, the story goes on:
Maori Party candidate Tina Porou backed out of Friday night’s meeting in Whakatane over fears for her safety.
“Upon arriving at the church, our candidate was greeted by a group of approximately 200 Mana party and Labour party supporters, apparently targeting the meeting for a protest against the education minister in connection with the closure of Kawerau Intermediate,” party president Pem Bird said in a statement.
“We’d be the last ones to challenge the right to political expression – but there has to be some boundaries in place around public safety.
“My candidate felt there was such a level of tension and anger among the crowd … that it might escalate into a situation which was unsafe. I made the decision that given the volatility of the rally as she described it to me, it would not be wise for her to attend.
“According to her account, some of the young people were particularly riled up and she was not confident that the meeting could proceed without incident.”
Unacceptable. Just unacceptable. The Intermediate supporters really have ruined the candidates meeting. One of less than a handful. They’ve stuck it to East Coast voters sending the message that the Intermediates concerns are greater than those on the East Coast. Oh, the arrogance.
This saga really tops itself off with this:
Earlier this week Rotorua MP Todd McClay made thinly-veiled comments about Mr Aim, who lives in Papamoa.
He said the Kawerau community “would be interested to know” that someone making a lot of noise about the education reorganisation had also sent videos of Kawerau students fighting to television media.
So it was the Intermediate Principal, Daryl Aim, who sent those videos to Closeup and sparked what was the most negative media story I've ever seen on the town. He must be gutted, or possibly ashamed. His actions certainly didn't help his cause. In fact, the opposite happened and the videos galvanised the Minister and local figures to push a head with the reorganisation of education in Kawerau. The irony's killing me. I admire Mr Aim’s shrewdness, but if he is indulging in unfair play he has no right to go accuses the Minister of playing the game unfairly. Pretty disgraceful really. I guess this the killer credibility blow for the Intermediate supporters. I think it’s high time they accepted the inevitable.