Prime Minister Chris Hipkins won't express confidence in under-fire Health NZ boss Rob Campbell

The chair of Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ's future looks uncertain after he refused to back down from a cutting criticism of National's Three Waters policy despite his obligation to be politically neutral. 

The Prime Minister says he believes the comments were inappropriate and refused to express confidence in the health boss.

National leader Christopher Luxon's proposed shake-up of Three Waters has caused quite a stir. The party over the weekend outlined its alternative to the scheme, which it's promised to repeal.

But the stir it created was potentially not the one Luxon was going for.

Health NZ chair Rob Campbell posted to Linkedin: "What on earth would make anyone think this was a sensible idea."

"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."

National's public service spokesperson Simeon Brown wasn't impressed. 

"It's absolutely appalling that a senior public servant should be wading into another party's political policies," he told Newshub. 

The Prime Minister agreed on Monday. 

"I do think that his comments were inappropriate for someone holding a role such as the ones he holds," said Chris Hipkins.  

Public service workers - and in particular bosses - are bound by a code of conduct which states they must remain politically neutral.

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

In answers to a series of questions from Newshub, Campbell dug in, refusing to apologise saying: "Of course I am aware of and adhere to the Code. That Code enjoins me to be 'honest and open'."

"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."

Newshub asked if he believed he'd undermined the political impartiality of his role.

He said there is a "big difference between being 'politically impartial' and being 'politically neutered'".

Hipkins said "we need to work through a process with him".

He wouldn't say if he thought Campbell was fit for his role and didn't express confidence in him.

Jenna Lynch Analysis

When the Prime Minister fails to express confidence in a public servant, it is the first step in walking the plank to resignation territory.

The fact Campbell is unrepentant and sees no problem with his comments leaves him with two options - be the master of his own destiny and resign, or wait for the Health Minister to finish deliberating his punishment.

The outcome of both options is likely the same.