The decision to fund the Taranaki green school was made after warnings from Labour Ministers that it should not be funded and after Cabinet’s Economic Committee had rejected funding for it.
POLITIK has learned that the funding decision came only after Greens co-leader, James Shaw, insisted that it be funded.
Now Shaw is proposing that the $12 million funding be converted to a loan.
But the Minister of Regional Economic Development, Shane Jones, says that can’t happen.
Labour’s opposition to the school funding has been evident with comments from both Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
At a press conference on Monday, Education Minister, Chris Hipkins was dismissive of the school, saying it was not part of Labour’s manifesto, but people were free to have their own views on whether it should have been funded.
“The funding of the capital part of that didn’t go anywhere near the Ministry of Education,” he said.
And in Parliament yesterday he said he was he was not one of the Ministers involved in approving the project.
Meanwhile the Minister who pressed the Government for the funding, Greens co-leader, James Shaw, yesterday called a press conference during which he used the word “apologise” seven times.
That was a measure of how necessary he believes it is to retreat from the decision.
It could not have come at a worse time.
The Roy Morgan poll taken during August and released yesterday shows Green support had climbed to 11.5 per cent; nearly double their 2017 election performance.
In their poll in August 2017, Roy Morgan had the Greens on 9 per cent; that number fell to 6.27 per cent by election day, in part possibly because of the furore over co-leader Metiria Turei’s resignation after she admitted she had lied on a welfare application.
The possibility that the green school funding might have a similar negative impact was obviously on the minds of the party co-leaders at their press conference yesterday.
“It’s very clear there’s no denying that already we were hovering around five per cent and we have to work very, very hard,” said co-leader, Marama Davidson..
“That’s why we are here apologising and showing to people that we know this was a mistake decision.“
Shane Jones could see some logic in the decision to give the money to the school.
“It’s not money that was connected with the education budget,” he said yesterday.
“It was designed to boost infrastructure, to try and have a transformational impact and also create jobs.
“But it’s too late for buyer remorse.
“The decision has been made, and it’s been publicised as a matter of good faith.
“And my advice to the members of the Green Party is overcome your ideological tantrums.”
But Jones was emphatic that it was not a decision he made.
“This is a project that came out of shovel ready infrastructure money,” he said.
“It was clearly owned, claimed and announced by James.
“I don’t know, maybe he was playing checkers, and the rest of us were playing chess.”
Shaw said he was introduced to Rachel and Mike Perrett who have founded the school by New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom.
Mike Perrett founded HRV, a nationwide heating and ventilating company and has plans to make the green schools global.
Holdom is a strong supporter.
“New Zealand has a long history of innovation and leadership and what the world needs now are more environmental entrepreneurs tackling the problems brought on by a rapidly growing population, unable or unwilling to mitigate its impact on our planet,” he said in July.
“We need to support the Green School New Zealand team and help them transform their vision into reality in Taranaki, as a gift to our children.”
Venture Taranaki also supported the school.
Its CEO, Justine Gilliland, said the international education market was worth $51 million to Taranaki’s economy, “and by aligning our strengths with global demand, this could grow.”
But none of this impressed the Labour and NZ First Ministers who approve funding like that for shovel ready projects.
Those projects were initially evaluated by Associate Finance Minister, David Parker; Finance Minister, Grant Robertson; Economic Development Minister, Phil Twyford and Regional Economic Development Minister, Shane Jones.
The projects were then considered by the Cabinet Economic Committee chaired by Robertson and with 17 members including James Shaw and Eugenie Sage from the Greens.
POLITIK understands that the Labour and New Zealand First Ministers on the committee refused to agree to fund going to the green school.
One Minister involved in the process told POLITIK that Shaw insisted that it go back on the list of projects to be approved by the committee.
Newshub reported last night that an email had gone from the Greens office in Parliament to Government Ministers saying he would not sign off on the other projects in the shovel ready portfolio unless the green school got funding.
The approval process for the $3 billion shovel ready project funds has been fraught with political tensions.
Jones has previously blamed the Greens for slowing down the legislative process on the Resource Management Amendment Bill which provided a fast track to get resource consents for the shovel ready projects.
But this has not been good for the Greens. Not that either Labour or NZ First seem to mind too much.