Sir Ashley Bloomfield weighs in over Rob Campbell sacking, calls it a 'big story'

Former Director-General of Health Sir Ashley Bloomfield has weighed in on the comments made by Health NZ chair Rob Campbell that led to his sacking.

"I spent much of the last 25 years in NZ's excellent public service & saw no evidence of either left or right 'leaning'," Sir Ashley said.

"I have no idea how any of my former CE colleagues voted, we just didn’t talk about it. Rob Campbell's comments are a big story because it’s a very rare event."

Sir Ashley is most well-known for leading New Zealand's health response for the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic. He stepped down from the role in July and now serves as a professor at the University of Auckland's School of Public Health. He was knighted in the New Year Honours.

Campbell was fired by Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall on Tuesday after making comments on LinkedIn critical of the National Party's Three Waters policy. That's despite public servants having to be politically impartial in their roles.

Campbell has called his sacking an overreaction and said he made the comments in a private capacity and they didn't damage the public's trust in his ability to be the Te Whatu Ora chair.

But Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the comments were "inappropriate". 

In a statement on Tuesday night, Dr Verrall said she lost confidence in Campbell. 

"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.

Campbell told Newshub afterwards that he had "no regret", but 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.

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

He said he 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."

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."

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".