Prime Minister Chris Hipkins calls comments by Health NZ chair Rob Campbell about National policy 'inappropriate'

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says comments by the chair of Te Whatu Ora about a National Party policy were "inappropriate" for someone in his role.

He said at a press conference on Monday that Rob Campbell's comments "fall well outside" of the code of conduct for board members of Crown entities.

"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."

Campbell told Newshub on Monday that he didn't regret the comments and had nothing to apologise for.

Asked to comment further, Hipkins said there is a "natural justice issue". 

"There is a process. I think that some of the public commentary he has made steps well outside of the politically neutral stance we would expect of someone holding a Crown entity chair position."

Hipkins wouldn't say he has confidence in Campbell. He said there is a process to go through.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said there was "nothing more to add to what the Prime Minister has said". 

Campbell, the chair of Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ, was critical of National's Three Waters policy announcement on LinkedIn on Sunday.

His comments were condemned online, including by National MPs, with some arguing they didn't align with the code of conduct for Crown Entity board members. Board members have to be politically impartial.

"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," the code of conduct says. 

In an email to Newshub, Campbell said he believed his comments were in line with the code of conduct and he didn't regret them.

"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 wouldn't apologise.

"Nothing to apologise for and nobody I need to apologise to," he told Newshub. "Has someone asked for an apology? If so I have not seen it."

In his LinkedIn comments about the National policy, Campbell said: "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. 

"Geographic and social inequities deepening while the infrastructure rots.

"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."

After Campbell's comments caused a stir online, National's Simeon Brown tweeted: "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."

National MP Chris Penk tweeted: "Look, if you want to make spurious criticism of National Party policy without giving up your day job of wrecking the health system, just become Minister in the current government and be done with it."

ACT's Seymour said Campbell should be "pulled up by the Public Service Commissioner". 

"Campbell's comments are such an egregious breach of the code of conduct, it's a wonder Peter Hughes hasn't been in touch to tell him to take them down," said Seymour. 

"The reality is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Much of the Wellington bureaucracy is openly sympathetic to the left and that is a real concern."

The Taxpayers' Union has written to the Public Service Commissioner asking him to investigate Campbell "for what appears to be a serious and clear breach" of the standards. 

A spokesperson for the Public Service Commissioner told Newshub he had no comment at this time.