Minister of Education Chris Hipkins is disputing a claim from Greens co-leader James Shaw he gave “verbal sign-off” for the Green School proposal, describing it as a mischaracterisation.
A leaked video shows Shaw telling party members he got the okay from Hipkins in a conversation they had before the controversial bid was signed off.
Shaw’s been in damage control since infuriating party supporters, schools and unions with his strong advocacy for the nearly $12 million application for the private school.
The expansion project was approved by a group of wider ministers under a $3 billion infrastructure fund – they say Shaw should take full responsibility as the sole advocate for the bid.
That advocacy extended to threatening to block at least 44 projects, earmarked for $600m of funding, unless it was given the green light.
While Hipkins had no involvement in the ministerial approval, in the video, Shaw says he gave him “verbal sign-off”.
Hipkins told reporters today he did talk to Shaw about the Green School bid and told him “it was not a priority for education funding… but of course I’m not one of the ministers involved in decisions around the ‘shovel ready’ projects, so it was not a matter for me to sign off, or otherwise”.
When asked if he had provided “verbal sign-off”, Hipkins said “no, I think that would mischaracterise the conversation”.
No support either from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who said Shaw had once again demonstrated his lack of experience.
The video would not help Shaw, Peters said.
“Why on earth is he potting the Labour Party again?
“When you make a botch up – accept it yourself, stop blaming everybody else.”
National’s Judith Collins said someone was “not telling the truth so they need to actually decide and let us know”.
ACT leader David Seymour said if Hipkins did agree to the funding that would be a “real disappointment”.
“But if he truly disagreed he should pull the funding as a senior member of Cabinet; he should be using his influence to do the right thing.”
“Perhaps Mr Hipkins can’t remember because he’s distracted being too many things to too many people.
“When you’re education minister, health minister, state services minister and Leader of the House it’s easy to see how you’d drop the ball.”
Shaw declined an interview today, but a spokesperson said he “stands by his commentary on the members call and continues to feel supported by caucus and the membership”.