Current Pharmac and ACC chairman Steve Maharey is likely to conclude his column-writing days in light of the controversy caused by former Te Whatu Ora chairman Rob Campbell, who was let go from the role last week.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking at his post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, confirmed Maharey had contacted his office as a result of the Campbell saga that prompted a national conversation about the need for chairs of public entities to be impartial.
A recent LinkedIn post by Campbell criticising National’s Three Waters strategy and charging the party with a “dog whistle on co-governance” led to him being fired as chairman of Te Whatu Ora/Health New Zealand and the Environmental Protection Authority.
Maharey, a former Labour Education and Social Development Minister, writes a regular column for Stuff.co.nz.
In one column he wrote in January, Maharey claimed “nothing seems new or fresh about the team National is offering” and likened the party to the Republican Party in the United States or Britain’s Conservative Party in that they “seem more interested in the past than the future”.
Maharey has not responded to the Herald’s request for comment.
Hipkins said Maharey had contacted his office following Campbell’s dismissal and had been reflecting on whether he would continue writing columns.
“My understanding is that, by and large, [Maharey] doesn’t write about political matters and so I think he’s doing some reflection on that and he’s asked for some feedback on that,” Hipkins said.
Asked whether he thought Maharey’s comments were appropriate, Hipkins said Maharey’s actions indicated he was considering whether his comments were appropriate.
“[Maharey] accepts that it could be a problem.”
However, Hipkins didn’t believe Maharey and Campbell should be dealt with in the same fashion.
“I don’t ask for perfection but where there has been a breach of the code or where there has been a perception of a breach of a code, I think if somebody is open to receiving feedback on that and open to changing as a result of that, I think that’s all we can ask of them.”
Campbell continued to stand by his comments and in an exclusive opinion piece for the Herald, Campbell claimed Maharey’s comments in his January column being deemed acceptable by the Government was “blatant hypocrisy”.
Hipkins said the most likely outcome was that Maharey would stop writing the column.
He refuted any suggestion Maharey was getting special treatment because he was a former Labour minister.
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”.