Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will not express confidence in the chair of Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ, Rob Campbell, after Campbell took to social media over the weekend to vent about National’s Three Waters policy and the party’s leader Christopher Luxon.
As the chair of a Crown Entity, Campbell is subject to public service impartiality, which the statements appear to fall foul of.
Campbell was approached through Health NZ for comment, but the Herald did not receive a response.
Hipkins, a former minister for the public service, said he believed the comments to be “inappropriate” and “fall well outside” what would be appropriate. He said Health Minister Ayesha Verrall would raise the incident with Campbell.
When asked to express confidence in Campbell, Hipkins only said that there was a natural justice process to go through.
The National Party has weighed in with the party’s public service spokesman Simeon Brown saying it was “appalling”.
“We’re of the view that it is completely inappropriate for a senior public servant, the chair of our Health Agency, to be making these comments.
“These appear on the fact of it to be in breach of the clear rules on political impartiality for senior public servants.
“He should clearly be focused on his day job which is fixing our broken health system,” Brown said.
A post from Campbell’s LinkedIn account read: “Leaving the solution to the major issues we can all see to the very bodies that have failed to avert the issues can only evince a John McEnroe ‘you cannot be serious!’ cry [SIC].”
“What on earth would make anyone think this was a sensible idea for debit raising alone, let alone the management alone, let alone the management and delivery of the tasks.
“Geographic and social inequities deepening while the infrastructure rots.
“I can only think this is a thin disguise for the dog whistle on ‘co-governance’.
“Christopher Luxon might be able to rescue his party from stupidity on climate change but rescuing this from a well he has dug himself might be harder,” he posted.
National was backed up by likely coalition partner Act - leader David Seymour described the post as a “rant”.
Seymour said: “Labour has politicised the public service by putting Campbell in charge of Health NZ and he needs to pull his head in or resign”.
Seymour went on to say the incident was the “tip of the iceberg” of eroding political neutrality.
“Much of the Wellington bureaucracy is openly sympathetic to the left and that is a real concern.
“A politically neutral public service that can carry out the policies of governments of all colours is critical,” he said.
As a member of a ministerially appointed board, Campbell is bound by the code of conduct, but is ultimately responsible to the minister, which in Campbell’s case is Health Minister Ayesha Verrall.
This is distinct from public service chief executives who are responsible to the Public Service Commissioner, Peter Hughes.
The code of conduct for Crown Entity board members says they “act in a politically impartial manner”.
“Irrespective of our political interests, we conduct ourselves in a way that enables us to act effectively under current and future governments.
“We do not make political statements or engage in political activity in relation to the functions of the Crown entity. When acting in our private capacity, we avoid any political activity that could jeopardise our ability to perform our role or which could erode the public’s trust in the entity.
“We discuss with the Chair any proposal to make political comment or to undertake any significant political activity”.
It’s not the first time Campbell has been under fire.
Defending Te Whatu Ora’s closed-door board meetings in an interview with RNZ’s Guyon Espiner, he said their function was not to provide “occupational therapy for journalists”.
A spokesperson for the Public Service Commissioner told the Herald they had no comment at this time.