Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ chair Rob Campbell unrepentant after claims comments breached political impartiality

The chair of Health NZ is unrepentant for political comments he made on social media about a National Party policy announcement that's led to a call for him to "pull his head in or resign".

"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."

Rob Campbell, chair of Te Whatu Ora, was critical of National's Three Waters announcement on Sunday on LinkedIn

"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."

There was outrage on social media, including from National MPs, at the remarks. ACT leader David Seymour said he should "pull his head in or resign". 

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."

Newshub asked Campbell if he believed his comments were consistent with the code of conduct. 

"Absolutely. 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."

Campbell made the comments on LinkedIn which highlights he is the chair of Te Whatu Ora as well as the Environmental Protection Authority.

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

Campbell said there was "nothing to apologise for" and he hadn't discussed the comments with Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

"Of course not. Why would I discuss National Party water reform policy with the Minister of Health?"

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.

Dr Verrall's office has been contacted for comment.