Todd Muller has revealed he never considered expelling MP Hamish Walker and also took a crack at the Prime Minister for "just talking about reprimanding" her ministers.
Walker announced on Wednesday he would not seek re-election in Southland after admitting to passing confidential COVID-19 patient details to the press, handed to him by ex-National Party president Michelle Boag.
Walker was stripped of his portfolios by Muller on Tuesday before standing down as the Southland candidate the following day, which Muller described to reporters on Thursday as the "appropriate" outcome.
"We're a party with strong values, strong integrity; known for actually delivering against promises. We had an issue that occurred here - we dealt with it and it's resolved."
Muller then blasted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for "just talking about reprimanding" her ministers, with a specific reference to the resignation of ex-Health Minister David Clark, who Ardern described as a "distraction".
"The feedback I'm getting is that we're a party that actually front things," Muller said. "As a leader I deal with it as opposed to just talking about reprimanding and saying you're disappointed and that people are a distraction but they stay on being ministers for a long, long time."
Neither Walker nor Clark was fired. Ardern was criticised for letting Clark stay on as Health Minister for months after breaking the lockdown rules in March, but she said she wanted to avoid disruption as the country faced a health crisis.
Muller revealed he never intended to expel Walker from the National Party caucus the way former National MP Jami-Lee Ross was after accusing ex-National leader Simon Bridges of being a "corrupt" politician.
"It's not something that crossed my mind... I think he's paid a significant price reflective of the seriousness of the issue," Muller said of Walker. "We're talking about someone who is no longer going to be an MP."
Muller said he was informed Walker had the sensitive information at lunchtime on Monday and by Wednesday the issue had been "resolved", with Walker deciding not to re-stand as a National MP, meaning he'll lose his current role after this term.
"I think he has paid an extraordinary cost but an understandable one, bearing in mind the seriousness of what happened."
Muller could not say if Walker will return to the House of Representatives, despite there being three more weeks of Parliament gatherings before it dissolves for the September election.
"We go back to Parliament for three weeks - he may or may not be there, we'll see what happens, but he of course is an MP and has a strong connection with his community."
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said earlier this week the leaked information had a "ring of dirty politics to it" - but Muller disputed that on Wednesday, suggesting it was a glitch.
"That's simply not true. This is an isolated incident and you've got to see it through that lens," he said. "I have acted very swiftly and we've got the right outcome... Hamish Walker went behind my back and made his own judgement."
Hipkins on Monday appointed Michael Heron QC to lead an investigation into the leaked information and Ardern told reporters on Wednesday the probe will continue despite Walker and Boag coming forward.