David Seymour dubs Ashley Bloomfield most powerful unelected person since Governor Hobson of Queen Victoria era

ACT leader David Seymour has dubbed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield the most powerful unelected person since the Queen Victoria-elected Governor Hobson. 

Seymour based his declaration on the fact that Dr Bloomfield has attended Cabinet - the governing body of senior ministers chaired by the Prime Minister who make decisions on behalf of New Zealand - 17 times this year.

In a written response the Prime Minister's office said: "I am advised that the Director-General of Health has attended a Cabinet meeting 17 times to date in 2021. The Director-General attends only to brief Cabinet for the purpose of alert level decisions."

Seymour said Dr Bloomfield "probably speaks more in Cabinet than most Cabinet ministers", and "almost certainly attends Cabinet more than ministers out of Cabinet, such as [Greens co-leader] James Shaw".

"Bloomfield has more power than any unelected person since Queen Victoria appointed Governor Hobson," he added, referring to the British Royal Navy officer who served as the first Governor of New Zealand from 1839 to 1841. 

Dr Bloomfield is allowed to attend Cabinet meetings, but only "occasionally", and it's debatable whether the Director-General has attended too often. 

"The Secretary of the Cabinet and the Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, who provide secretariat services to Cabinet, are the only officials to attend Cabinet meetings regularly," the Cabinet Manual states. 

"Occasionally, senior public service officials may be invited to give a special presentation to Ministers in the Cabinet room."

Seymour says Dr Bloomfield has been pushing the limit. 

William Hobson, the British Royal Navy officer who served as the first Governor of New Zealand from 1839 to 1841.
William Hobson, the British Royal Navy officer who served as the first Governor of New Zealand from 1839 to 1841. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Seventeen times is not occasional," he says. "The problem with the Government's response to COVID-19 is it's totally dependent on the Ministry of Health, it's effectively made Ashley Bloomfield an unelected Cabinet minister for COVID."

Dr Bloomfield has accompanied the Prime Minister at almost all of her press conferences regarding COVID-19, and he was last year described as a de facto Health Minister during the tenure of David Clark, when the pandemic began. 

Who could forget the moment last year when Dr Bloomfield was, as Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien described, "brutally thrown under the bus" by Clark while standing right next to him, after the Government's quarantine testing botch-up.

The Director-General, who was "humbled" to be a finalist for TV personality of the Year, has often faced political attacks conventionally reserved for elected politicians. 

National leader Judith Collins earlier this year described Dr Bloomfield as a "deified", "one-trick pony" who's "good at standing up and talking about COVID". 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty Images

Her comments came after Dr Bloomfield apologised to Parliament's Health Select Committee for wrongly telling MPs he hadn't discussed the transfer of an ill United Nations worker from COVID-ravaged Fiji with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials. 

Health Minister Andrew Little threw his support behind Dr Bloomfield at the time, saying the Director-General deals with "a lot of issues all the time". 

"I have immense respect for him. I think he is doing a terrific job with a ministry that is being pulled all over the place to do a whole heap of things."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year described working with Dr Bloomfield as "a real honour", and that New Zealanders were lucky to have him. 

"His background in public health has meant I consider New Zealand to be amongst those countries who are lucky to have that expertise in leading our response - one that considers the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders in every respect."