Health NZ chair Rob Campbell sacked

Health NZ chair Rob Campbell has been sacked.

It follows controversial remarks the senior public servant made about National Party policy that the Prime Minister called "inappropriate". He had no regrets on Monday, telling Newshub he had nothing to apologise for.

Immediately after the announcement that he had been fired, Campbell told RNZ it was an overreaction and he made the comments in a private capacity.

"I've received a letter from the minister which responded to a letter from my lawyers, indicating that she has removed me from that position as chair of Te Whatu Ora," he said.

"I think that's a mistake and an overreaction to the statements I made in a private capacity but nevertheless that's what she's done."

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said she had raised his comments with him. 

"I no longer have confidence that Mr Campbell is able to exercise the political neutrality necessary for his role at Te Whatu Ora," she said.

"I have decided to exercise my power under section 36 of the Crown Entities Act to remove him from this role, effective immediately.

"It is of vital importance that all Public Service board members, especially Chairs, uphold the political neutrality required under the Code of Conduct which they sign upon appointment."

Dr Verrall said she would announce a new permanent chair in due course and thanked Campbell for his contribution.

After the statement was released, Campbell said he apologised to National leader Christopher Luxon on Tuesday if he caused any "personal offence". He claimed Luxon had accepted the apology.

"I think I am entitled to make comments as a private citizen, which I did in the LinkedIn post...I don't see anything in the statements I made which was in any way damaging to Te Whatu Ora."

The Prime Minister has "completely misinterpreted the code of conduct", Campbell said.

He wouldn't rule out legal action over his dismissal.

"It's not something to threaten but it's one possible line of action."

Campbell also said he hadn't heard any concerns about him staying on as the Environmental Protection Authority chair. He wouldn't ask for a payout.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister David Parker said there was "no comment at this stage" when asked if the minister had confidence in Campbell as the Environmental Protection Authority chair.

Over the weekend, Campbell wrote a LinkedIn post critical of National's 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 was pointed out that Campbell is subject to the Public Service Commission's Code of Conduct for Crown Entity board members. That includes a section on political impartiality. 

"We act in a politically impartial manner. Irrespective of our political interests, we conduct ourselves in a way that enables us to act effectively under current and future governments," the code of conduct says. 

"We do not make political statements or engage in political activity in relation to the functions of the Crown entity.

"When acting in our private capacity, we avoid any political activity that could jeopardise our ability to perform our role or which could erode the public's trust in the entity. We discuss with the Chair any proposal to make political comment or to undertake any significant political activity."

Despite outrage among National MPs and ACT calling for Campbell to either "pull his head in or resign", Campbell told Newshub on Monday he had nothing to apologise for and that he had upheld the code of conduct.

"Of course I am aware of and adhere to the Code. That Code enjoins me to be 'honest and open'," Campbell said. 

"The comments referred to were in a private capacity. I cannot see how a view on water reform could jeopardise my ability to perform my role at Te Whatu Ora nor erode public trust in Te Whatu Ora."

He said there is a "big difference between being 'politically impartial' and being 'politically neutered'" and he doesn't regret making the comments. 

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Campbell's remarks were "inappropriate"

"There is a code of conduct around political comment by people who hold those roles and his comments fall well outside that," Hipkins said.

"That is ultimately now a matter that the ministers responsible will be raising with him and of course there is a process that they need to work through in doing that."