The Prime Minister refuses to be drawn on the future of Rob Campbell as the Health NZ boss but says a conversation between the Te Whatu Ora chair and a minister about his political comments on Monday night wasn’t his first.
Campbell’s future in the public service role looks uncertain after he made comments on social media highly critical of a National Party policy on social media which some have claimed are in breach of the requirement he acts politically impartial. Campbell’s also the chair of the Environmental Protection Authority.
He’s so far been publicly unrepentant, telling Newshub on Monday that there was nothing to apologise for and there is a “big difference between being ‘politically impartial’ and being ‘politically neutered'”.
Chris Hipkins on Monday afternoon called the social media remarks “inappropriate” and outside of what is expected of a senior public servant. He also wouldn’t express confidence in him and said a process was underway with the ministers responsible.
Speaking to AM on Tuesday morning, Hipkins said those conversations took place on Monday night.
“Someone in a position like that is expected to act in a way that allows them to work with a future government, even if it’s not the same Government as the current Government.
“There’s a code of conduct in place. I think his comments step outside the code of conduct. So that now is a matter that the ministers are taking up with him.”
Hipkins, the former Public Service Minister, said it is the second time over the past year that a minister has had to speak to Campbell about his comments and political neutrality.
Last year, the Health boss publicly backed a proposed Member’s Bill by Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick to ban alcohol sponsorship for sports.
“My understanding is that there was a conversation about that at the time,” Hipkins said.
Asked if it was two strikes and you’re out, Hipkins said: “There is a process that you have to follow here”.
“That doesn’t involve me making arbitrary decisions live on air. Clearly, some of the comments he’s made fall outside of the bounds of what we would expect of someone in that kind of position.”
Would he prefer someone else be there?
“Again, I am not going to make those judgements,” Hipkins said.
He said that wouldn’t be fair or appropriate.
The controversy stems from comments Campbell made on LinkedIn about National’s latest Three Waters policy.
“What on earth would make anyone think this was a sensible idea for debt raising alone, let alone the managment (sic) and delivery of the tasks,” he wrote.
“I can only think that 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.”
It outraged people on social media, including National’s public services spokesperson Simeon Brown.
“Appalling. Rob Campbell who is the Chair of Te Whatu Ora is meant to be politically neutral – but here he is having a swing at National’s Three Waters policy. Rob might want to spend his time trying to fix Labour’s massive hospital wait times rather than political attacks.”
ACT’s David Seymour said Campbell should be “pulled up by the Public Service Commissioner”.
On Tuesday morning, he called on Hipkins to get rid of Campbell.
“There was a time when such a person would resign out of a sense of honour, but Mr Campbell insists he’s done nothing wrong. He won’t jump so it’s time for the Prime Minister and Minister of Health to push him.”
A spokesperson for the Public Service Commissioner told Newshub on Monday he had no comment at this time.