The former chair of Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand, Rob Campbell has now become the former chair of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
As a board member of the EPA, he served at the discretion of Environment Minister David Parker, who today removed him from that role. Campbell had earlier been sacked by Health Minister Ayesha Verrall from his role as chair of Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ.
Parker said he acted on the advice of Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.
“I have accepted the Public Service Commissioner’s advice that Rob Campbell’s LinkedIn comments in relation to National’s policies and its leader is a clear breach of the Code of Conduct requirements that he act politically impartially and retains his ability to work effectively under current and future governments.
“Also, his subsequent public comments in the media suggest he does not accept the constraints he is under as a member and chair of a Crown Entity Board.
“That has eroded my trust and confidence in his ability to effectively undertake his role at the EPA,” Parker said.
Campbell took to LinkedIn at the weekend to criticise National’s version of Three Waters policy and its co-governance component, saying it was a thin disguise for dog-whistling on co-governance. He maintains those comments were made in a private capacity.
He has maintained that his sacking from both roles had been as a result of his strident support for co-governance, something the Government has moved to deemphasise under the leadership of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
Campbell told the Herald the Government was “trying to shut down political dissent and political debate over issues such as co-governance”.
“This is an interpretation by the Government to apply a particularly repressive interpretation in order to try and control political dialogue -that’s all it is,” he said.
Campbell said that under his leadership, the EPA was also moving towards something approximating co-governance.
He said Parker did not want this development formalised.
“The biggest issue that I ever had with the EPA was around the issue of co-governance. Can I make that very clear? The EPA has for a long time had a Māori advisory committee Ngā Kaihautū.
“Under my leadership we were bringing that organisation and the board closer together and indeed we held our meetings jointly.
“Mr Parker - I don’t owe him any allegiance of silence now - Mr Parker did not want us to make that publicly apparent or to make any formal change to our procedures, but the fact is under my leadership we were doing it because we considered it essential,” Campbell said.
The Herald has obtained copies of the letters between Parker and Campbell.
This morning, Campbell wrote to Parker apologising “for any difficulty which the issues... may have caused”.
He said this was the “first and only instance” in which Parker had pulled him up on a transgression.
“That distinguishes this instance from the matters considered by the Minister of Health (where Minister Verrall was of the view that on a couple of previous occasions, matters about my public commentary had been raised with me)” he wrote.
Campbell offered Parker the same concession he had offered Verrall: the opportunity to establish “protocols or procedures” around future public commentary “to avoid any future misunderstanding between us, and to ensure the public’s trust in the EPA is maintained”.
Parker did not accept this offer, and wrote back hours later sacking Campbell.
“Your response (which in your public comments suggested there may be an ulterior motive for your dismissal) does not allow me to conclude that you understand the significance and importance of political neutrality in terms of the Act and the Code’s requirements that you act politically impartially and retain your ability to work effectively under current and future governments,” Parker wrote.