Sacked Health NZ boss Rob Campbell says he has 'no regret' over political comments

Rob Campbell has told Newshub he has "no regret" about the comments that got him sacked from the Health NZ chair role.

He said he apologised to Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall "for any difficulty I had caused her or the Government" but "it would not appear that she accepted that".

In a statement on Tuesday night, Dr Verrall announced she had sacked him as the Te Whatu Ora chair.

"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.

It follows remarks from Campbell on LinkedIn critical of a recent National Party announcement. Those caused concern as public servants are required to be politically impartial. 

"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.

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

But Campbell said he has "no regret" for his comments and they "reflect my views on the topic accurately".

He still believed he had upheld the code of conduct for Crown Entity board members.

"Yes I do. The code enjoins directors to be 'honest and open', to be 'fair' and to 'speak up'," he told Newshub.

"The code explicitly provides for a director to act in their 'private capacity' which I did. The limit on that is not to act in a way which 'could erode the public’s trust in the entity'. There is no way my comments impacted Te Whatu Ora in that way."

The section of the code of conduct on political impartiality says:

"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."

Campbell is also the Environmental Protection Authority chair.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister David Parker said there was "no comment at this stage" when asked if the minister had confidence in Campbell in that role.

In his LinkedIn comments, Campbell took aim at National's Three Waters alternative.

"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."

Campbell told Newshub he had apologised to National leader Christopher Luxon "for any personal distress I caused, which he graciously accepted".

National has confirmed Campbell apologised and it was accepted.

National's public service spokesperson Simeon Brown on Monday told Newshub Campbell's comments were appalling, while ACT leader David Seymour suggested he "pull his head in or resign".

Despite that, Campbell on Monday wouldn't apologise. He told Newshub there is a "big difference between being 'politically impartial' and being 'politically neutered'".

But Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the comments 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."

Speaking to RNZ on Tuesday evening, Campbell said the Prime Minister had "completely misinterpreted the code of conduct" and wouldn't rule out legal action.

"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.