The Health Minister is in another political neutrality mess after Te Whatu Ora paid for a puff profile of her in a southern newsletter.
Dr Ayesha Verrall – who sacked the chair of Te Whatu Ora last week for not being politically neutral – has called the piece an “inappropriate use of public funding”.
The 10-paragraph profile of Dr Verrall featured in Te Whatu Ora Southern’s February newsletter and featured the headline: ‘New Health Minister reveals strong Southern Roots.’
It also appeared in the Otago Daily Times, The Star, Southland Express and other region publications.
The cost of the publications is $14,000 and it’s estimated to have reached more than 365,750 people. The cost of the profile didn’t incur an extra cost.
It called the minister a “southerner at heart” and said she was born in Invercargill and raised in Fiordland.
“She remembers her father trying to instill his love of the outdoors, and recalled crossing the Eglinton River, scrambling up Dore Pass and waking in freezing Department of Conservation huts to see the sun touch the mountain tops,” it read.
“There is a sense of pride that her family, and the stunning landscape of Fiordland with its towering mountains, lakes, valleys, and rivers, made her grow up strong, resourceful, and independent.”
The National Party asked about the profile in a Written Parliamentary Question – where Opposition MPs can ask ministers questions.
Newshub understands the answer was about two weeks overdue.
A statement from Dr Verrall was delivered to press gallery journalists on Friday afternoon.
Dr Verrall said she was not aware of the advertisement and didn’t approve it.
“The first I learned of this matter is through a Written Parliamentary Question”.
But her office knew because Te Whatu Ora Southern sought its approval.
That approval “was mistakenly given by a former staff member, who did not seek my approval,” Dr Verrall said.
“I would not have approved the profile because I do not believe it is an appropriate use of public funding.
“I have asked that all online versions of it be removed. I have also let my current ministerial staff and Te Whatu Ora know that this was inappropriate.”
Jenna Lynch Analysis
This is terrible form from Te Whatu Ora and the minister – the health agency is a public entity and so is therefore supposed to be politically neutral.
The ad is a regular monthly feature and costs $14,000 – her extra little profile didn’t cost any extra.
But while the sum of money seems reasonably minuscule, the look is terrible especially right now. The minister last week fired Rob Campbell for a lack of political neutrality.
Now it’s her in that very same spotlight.