Green co-leader James Shaw apologises for 'error of judgement' over Green School funding

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has apologised for an "error of judgement" over signing off on $11.7 million to the privately-run Green School, and has suggested it be given as a loan instead.

Shaw announced on Wednesday last week as Associate Finance Minister that the Government would support a shovel-ready construction project at the Green School in Taranaki with an $11.7 million grant to help it expand.

The funding for the Green School, which charges fees of up to $43,000 a year, upset former Green MPs such as Catherine Delahunty, who said on Twitter last week: "we don't need shovel-ready privilege."

The funding is at odds with the Green Party's policy to phase out funding for private schools, and Shaw told Newshub last week he "probably would have taken a second look" in hindsight. 

Shaw said on Tuesday the decision he made to support the project was an "error of judgement, for which I apologise", and he said if he was making the decision again he would not support the project.

Shaw said over the last few days he has read countless emails and seen people's comments on social media. He said he also heard from teachers, principals, and parents.

"I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write, call, or meet with me in person. I want you to know that I have reflected on your concerns and I am acting on them," he said.

"As a politician, admitting you were wrong is one of the hardest things to do. We're expected to be infallible. So much so that we can forget that people prefer their leaders to be honest and compassionate.

"Becoming a minister means being willing to question your decisions in public and, if necessary, correct them. That is what I am doing."

Shaw said his understanding is that the Green School has approached representatives of the Crown to find a solution but he said those discussions can take time and ministers "cannot insert themselves" in commercial negotiations.

"My personal view is that the best way to do this is that support for the Green School to come in the form of a loan, rather than a grant. That would ensure the money is paid back in full," he said.

"I apologise to parents, teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who have been working tirelessly in their communities to make sure the Greens are part of the next Government - and have felt demoralised by this decision.

"I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who, rightfully, want the best for their children. I want you all to know that I have listened to your concerns."

It comes after National Party leader Judith Collins met with schools in New Plymouth who she says have expressed "absolute anger" over the Government signing off on the funding for the Green School.

Collins met with the principals of Marfell Community School and New Plymouth Boys' High School on Monday, and she said both schools are "suffering" from a deficit of infrastructure.

"What was really clear is the absolute anger amongst the school principals and the school communities about the $11.7 million that has been promised by the Government to this thing called a Green School," Collins said on Tuesday.

"They are looking at this Green School, a private school, and wondering what is going on with the Government and they certainly did not expect that would happen."

Shaw said it is fair to question why the Government supported construction at the Green School when there are public schools all over the country with leaky roofs and mouldy classrooms.

Newshub revealed on Monday that the Green School, set up by Rachel and Michael Perrett who made their wealth selling HRV systems, hosted a 'sacred ceremony' run by a school parent who believes COVID-19 is a manufactured natural disaster. 

The parents also planned a $15,000 tour of New Zealand that included planting crystals with the school's students.

Shaw said he is taking the responsibility. 

"I think that we should leave the parents out of it. I am clear that I am wearing this and it's not the parents who are involved," he said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Shaw said then the Mayor of New Plymouth first told him about the Green School, he saw an opportunity to employ hundreds of people on an environmentally-friendly building project.

"It was apparent very shortly after the announcement was made that there was a huge amount of public dissatisfaction with that decision and so it was clear to me very early on that I had made an error of judgement," he said.

"I just did not give it the attention it deserved."

Shaw said he looked into getting the money back but the Crown had made the decision in good faith, a similar stance taken by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.