Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis has brushed off a formal complaint from one of the charter schools in the Government’s firing line, saying he is not showing any favouritism to those within his electorate.

Before the election, Davis promised to resign if the two partnership schools (also known as charter schools) in his Te Tai Tokerau electorate were closed. The introduction of government legislation to abolish charter schools, a pre-election Labour pledge, has led to protests from the affected schools and put pressure on those within Labour who have spoken favourably of them.

As part of the Ministry of Education’s report to Parliament’s education and workforce committee, National education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye asked about “chatter from some schools” that ministers had been speaking to them.

“I want to confirm in what capacity and what advice is coming from the Ministry of Education officials. Is Kelvin Davis acting in his capacity as Associate Minister of Education when he is talking to partnership schools?”

Ministry of Education chief executive Iona Holsted told the committee the Ministry had received a complaint on Tuesday night from the Villa Education Trust, which runs two charter schools in South and West Auckland.

“They felt that other ministers were meeting other partnership schools. We will be responding to that complaint directly.”

Holsted later confirmed the complaint related to Davis.

The complaint, sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins by Villa Education Trust spokesman Alwyn Poole, raised concerns about Davis’s discussions with some charter schools in the light of Hipkins’ comments that negotiations had to be handled by ministry officials.

“Chris you have refused to speak to us because this is ‘in process’ and you have stated the all negotiations are the role of the Ministry officials.

“Can you explain then why Kelvin David [sic] had been speaking to He Puna Marama and with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister.”

Davis told media he was aware of the complaint but did not believe his conversations constituted a conflict of interest.

“I was contacted by He Puna Marama Trust because they were concerned about the scaremongering from the National and Act parties, and I spoke to He Puna Marama Trust through the publicly available information so there’s no favouritism.”

Ardern said she had not seen the complaint itself, but was confident Davis had handled the issue appropriately.

“It was very clear to me the basis on which he was answering questions…there’s no doubt that Kelvin has a close connection to the schools in his area and of course his knowledge of the schools in his area means he’ll often be speaking as a representative for Northland.”

Ardern said Davis had spoken strongly in the past about the need to support Northland students, while it was clear who was actually undertaking negotiations with the affected partnership schools.

Speaking during Question Time, Davis said he would fully comply with any enquiries following the complaint.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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