David Clark’s ‘full disclosure’ questioned after house move revealed

Minister of Health David Clark emerged from lockdown in Dunedin to attend Parliament yesterday, but his lockdown laxness has flared up again.

Earlier in April Clark was demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet ranks and stripped of the Associate Finance portfolio after it was revealed that he was abusing the spirit if not the rules of the lockdown that he must have played a part in defining.

First he was found to have driven his van to a mountain bike track, and it then took Clark days to front up and admit he had also taken his family to the beach.

But he didn’t say anything about moving house.

1 News: Health Minister David Clark confident he didn’t break Alert Level 4 lockdown for third time despite moving between homes

Dr Clark was seen repeatedly moving boxes between the two properties during the Alert Level 4 lockdown. The properties are believed to only be a few hundred metres apart.

“I moved house, using the services of a moving company, on the Wednesday immediately before the Level Four lockdown began. My new house is just up the road from my old one,” Dr Clark told 1 NEWS.

“During lockdown I used my old house as my office and occasionally walked the odd item or box back with me, as is within the rules.”

Dr Clark’s office has confirmed he was working at times during lockdown from his old house, which he still owns and said it provided a quieter work environment.

The story seems to have changed a bit. A Kiwiblog post quotes a NZ Herald article that quotes 1 News:

Clark was spotted repeatedly between two Dunedin properties during the month-long lockdown period.

He and his family are believed to have recently moved into a new home before the country went into level 4, with the minister seen moving large furniture and appliances as the country went into the mandatory nationwide restrictions, 1 NEWS reported.

So both the Herald and 1 News seem to have altered their stories online, but

Working from home was supposed to be working from home, but perhaps more damaging for Clark is his lack of full disclosure in a Statement from David Clark made on 7 April that stated:

Last night as part of my preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee, I provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of my activity outside my home during Alert Level 4.

That included the fact that on the first weekend of the Alert Level 4 lockdown I drove my family approximately 20 kilometres from our house in Dunedin to Doctor’s Point Beach for a walk.

In the interest of full disclosure, since the lockdown began I have also driven my family to a walking track approximately 2 kilometres from our house for a walk and gone for occasional runs, all of which were local and within the rules, and one bike ride which is already in the public domain.

I don’t know whether Ardern was provided with ‘a complete picture’ then, but Clark seems to have not provided full disclosure in his public statement.

All Ardern disclosed in Statement from the Prime Minister on Dr David Clark was:

“Yesterday evening the Health Minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.”

Again what Clark did may seem relatively trivial, but what he stated looks to have been misleading – and may have misled the Prime Minister, unless Ardern mislead the public.


Newshub has a bit more:  Prime Minister told David Clark’s house move took place prior to lockdown

Dr Clark’s new house was just down the road from where he used to live, and though most of the moving – including shifting his family and hiring a moving truck for heavy furniture – took place before the country went into lockdown, Dr Clark continued to move some boxes after the alert level was raised.

The Health Minister’s office told Newshub he was using the old place as an office, so he would shift some things when he returned home.

That seems minor, but it still seems outside the rules.

Richard Harman at Politik: The Minister’s new house: up the road and into trouble

Then came a statement from a spokesperson for the Prime Minister:”A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said based on what the Health Minister has advised her he moved house prior to lockdown, and based on his description of events, had not breached the rules of lockdown.”

The repeated “based on what the Health Minister advised her” and “based on his description of events” would seem to suggest the Prime Minister is not entirely convinced that what he said happened is exactly what did happen. But then, he has form.

He has form for not fully disclosing already. He could have an awkward day in Parliament.

$3 billion small and medium business relief package announced

The Government has just announced a “tax loss carry-back scheme” package for small and medium sized businesses amounting to over three billion dollars.


Government backs business through COVID-19

The Government has announced a suite of new measures to provide relief for small and medium-sized businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says while the Government has already acted swiftly in response to the crisis, with about $20 billion in support already announced, it recognises that more is needed.

The new measures include:

  • $3.1 billion tax loss carry-back scheme (estimated cost over the next two years)
  • $60 million estimated annual savings to business each year from changes to the tax loss continuity rules
  • $25 million in the next 12 months for further business consultancy support
  • Greater flexibility for affected businesses affected to meet their tax obligations
  • Measures to support commercial tenants and landlords

“We have taken decisive action throughout this pandemic to cushion the blow for our businesses and workers – today’s announcement continues that focus. We need our businesses to stay solvent to help with the economic recovery as we emerge from this health crisis.

“Our focus on cashflow and confidence continues through these measures. We have approved a tax loss carry-back scheme that will allow a large number of businesses to access their previous tax payments as cash refunds. Essentially this means a forecast loss in the current financial year can be offset against the tax paid on a profit from last year.”

We are also changing the tax loss continuity rules to make it easier for firms to raise new capital without losing the benefit of their existing tax losses” Grant Robertson said

Minister for Small Business Hon Stuart Nash says some businesses are struggling to meet their non-wage fixed costs, like interest, rent and insurance, but are not currently in a position to take on additional debt.

“In the absence of further support from the Government, these otherwise viable SMEs may be forced to close down permanently.

“We don’t want that to happen, so as well as the tax measures which should provide some cashflow relief, we are going to provide tailored support services to help businesses weather the storm, at no charge to the business.

“Using established services including the Regional Business Partner Network and the helplines run by the Employers and Manufacturers Association and Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, we can get specialist, tailored advice where it is needed, fast. This could range from human resources advice to business continuity planning to financial management – because every one of these small businesses will have a different need,” Stuart Nash said.

New measures are also being announced to support stability in commercial property transactions, extending the timeframes required before landlords can cancel leases and mortgagees can exercise their rights to sale or repossession.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says many businesses may be finding it difficult or impossible to pay rent if they are no longer able to access their property, and if landlords are not receiving rent, they may not be able to meet their mortgage obligations.

“As a result, the Government will extend the current 10 working day timeframe that commercial landlords may cancel the lease to 30 working days. This will be for both the period the tenant is in arrears before the notice is given, and for the period to remedy the breach.

“The Government will also extend the timeframes for lenders from 20 to 40 working days for mortgaged land, and from 10 to 20 working days for mortgaged goods. This will apply to commercial mortgages and home loans. However, the already announced mortgage deferrals are likely to be the first port of call for residential borrowers.

“These measures will ensure an orderly process to deal with commercial lease disputes caused by COVID-19,” Andrew Little said.

Legislation enacting the changes announced today will be introduced on April 27 and will apply effectively retrospectively once the bill is passed.

Work is also underway on further support for businesses and households as the impacts of COVID 19 become clearer.

Summary of the David Clark bike ride

The Minister of Health David Clark was in the news for going for a mountain bike ride between conference calls on Friday. See: Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Here’s a summary of what I have seen about this.

Yes, it actually is permitted to (say) drive five minutes to a local mountain bike park where there are few other riders, and then ride up and down a gentle, well-groomed trail at a reasonable speed. It may not be politick or wise to do so if you are the Minister of Health, but for the rest of us “the rules” do allow for it.

  • But it was against the repeated advice of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and both she and Grant Robertson (“We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking” said Clark had apologised, and they both said he shouldn’t have gone for the bike ride as it was too risky.

Robertson: “I certainly think it’s important for the minister of health not to put himself in any risk … We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking.”

Ardern: “What we need people to do is stay local and also stay away from risk. And that’s really important because ultimately we don’t want our emergency services or other people having to come to your rescue., and that’s why that’s so important right now.”

  • Clark and others have played down the mountain biking by saying ‘The Big Easy’ was a relatively low risk mountain bike trail. But it is on the side of a hill, and Clark was not “available to front anytime” as Robertson claimed.

““He’s available to front anytime … He has a young family, and we all have to understand at this time we’re operating in a very different world. He’s involved in every single cabinet and cabinet committee meeting.”

  • Demands for the Minister to resign or be sacked were little more than the usual knee jerk automatic response from political opponents and appeasing radio stirrers.
  • Criticism of Clark wasn’t confined to those from the right. See David Clark at The Standard:

But what kind of message is being sent when one of the government’s own upper middle class twats imagines it’s fine to do what David Clark did? Do lock down rules only apply to people without four wheel drives and the ability to go for a day out?

If David Clark can get away with a simple “sorry”, then why the fuck would anyone else feel the rules around lock-down are to be taken seriously?

I mean, is this lock-down serious? If so, the government needs to demonstrate how seriously it is and jettison David Clark.

The Government has acknowledged the error (bad PR and politics at least) but otherwise not demonstrated much seriousness, certainly not Ardern in this interview:

Ardern interview – lockdown, eradication, data, duration, business on hold 

This will,probably blow over now with Clark still in his job as Minister of Health, working from home in Dunedin. In a Government where optics are carefully managed as much as possible sacking a supposedly key Minister in the middle of a health crisis would be ‘bad optics’.

But it has highlighted two things.

This is the biggest health issue New Zealand has faced in a century and one of the biggest situations faced by a Minister of Health, but Clark is working from home a long way from the epicentre of the handling of the crisis, Wellington.

Why is Clark absent (in person from the main decision making loop? See Dominant Ministry of Health, weak Minister – and weak Government

Also, a comment from The Standard:

I’d rather Clark spent his time really asking his ministry hard questions about the policy they are demanding the country follow. The Minister is after all the meeting point between that Ministry’s policy and the rest of the interests of the the country. The Health ministry is rightly concerned with Health, but not the overall health of the country as it were. So they’ll just do what they do and with no questions asked how are we to know what the best policy is?

Right now they seem to be ruling the roost and Clark isn’t really visible enough, imo.

If he’s got to go it should be for that reason, not the bike ride. His performance reminds me a bit of Justin Lester’s and we all know what happened to him…

Muttonbird had been defending Clark’s bike ride at The Standard a day earlier.

And maui:

So arguably the second most important person in the country is in lockdown seperated from all the other key people. Great…

I pointed that out in a prior thread at The Standard and was criticised for it.

stunned mullet:

Minister Clark has completely abrogated responsibility to Ashley and the ministry who are now running the show.

And possibly related to that, the general competence of Clark as Minister of Health has been highlighted – quite a lot in fact at the normally defensive of Labour The Standard.

stunned mullet:

On his performance as a Minister as Health he (or the Ministry under his time) has been poor.

  • The meningitis vaccine fiasco in Northland
  • The decrease in vaccination coverage
  • The removal of a number of measures to track DHB performance
  • Running out of flu vaccine last year and what looks like a supply chain rupture this year

and there are no doubt additional examples..

If this was one incident in isolation where we weren’t advising the general public to isolate and not needlessly drive away from one’s locale then no issue but he is the Minister of Health and it is not reasonable behaviour from the Minister of Health at the current time.

adam:

As for making mistakes- sure we all human.

I’m just not seeing him do anything of great worth, all I’m hearing is small towns struggling with keeping doctors clinics open, the same amount of homeless sleeping in cars, and I have other concerns about planning and communication from the MoH. And lets leave aside the complete and utter mess around support for disabled, that clark and co (MoH) have once again forced on disabled people and their families. Mistakes I’ll accept a few,  but as you said, what they do after what counts.

The last word is from Corey Humm:

But I’m labour through and through, still , this guys a plonker if the nats did this wed we up in arms about this, but labour supporters are acting like football supporters,Fafoi is useless and Clark has “flouted” the rules, time to go! After the crisis of course, right now  yeah would be crazy, he’s dog Tucker though,I really  hope the pm uses  the time after lockdown to get rid of her entire front bench bar Robertson and little before the election, a new young team, the incumbents are a bunch of hopeless automotons being carried by the PM,  political non entities who not only do the public not know who they are, the ministers themselves couldn’t tell you who they were they have no identity,the front bench of labour shows exactly why we were out of office for 9 years, it’s infuriating as there is so much talent in the 2017 class of labour it’s sad that they won’t get any leadership roles until we’re in opposition. Which will be another nine years out of office because of the power vacuume the pm will leave

Imagine what this pm could achieve with competent ministers.

It’s notable enough that comments like this are coming from The Standard, but at least as notable is the fact that they are barely criticised or challenged, and no one has supported Clark’s performance as Minister of Health, nor defended him.

The problems are twofold – the bad optics of replacing a key Minister in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, and also (and possibly more critical), who would replace him? Clark is also an ordained minister with little background in the health field prior to taking this job on. He is a symptom of a lack of experience and talent in the incoming Labour crop of MPs in 2017.

Someone like Liz Craig looks well qualified based on her health background, but she was a new MP in 2017 and the first term would be a huge challenge for one of the most difficult portfolios.

It seems likely that Ardern and Robertson will have to keep covering for Clark for the rest of this term – and unfortunately, probably the worst of the Covid-19 virus.

If Labour retain power after the September election Clark will probably be moved to less demanding roles. While he simply doesn’t seem to be up to the job few people can manage the Health portfolio without difficulties.

 

Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Minister of Health David Clark took some time out from his busy schedule on Thursday to drive to a bike park in Dunedin to ride an easy trail. His van was the only vehicle in the car park the park is accessed from so social distancing was probably way enough (some people may have rode their bikes to the park to use it).

Clark’s prominently painted van was photographed at the park, and he admitted going for a ride between conference calls (he is currently working from home).

Lockdown rules about recreation are a bit vague but this is setting a bad example by a Minister prominent in Governnment making stringent rules for the public.

Stuff: Health Minister drives to local park to ride his mountain bike, amid coronavirus lockdown

Clark, who earlier on Thursday told Stuff the coronavirus response was his “singular focus”, said he didn’t “want to give anyone the perception” that he was taking the lockdown lightly, after his van was photographed at Logan Park — a 2.3km distance from his home.

Clark, in a statement responding to queries from Stuff, confirmed he went for a bike ride between video conference meetings on Thursday afternoon.

“As health minister I try to model healthy behaviour … This was my only chance to get out for some exercise in daylight hours,” the statement read.

Clark said he drove to a mountain bike trail called “The Big Easy”. The trail, according to the Mountain Biking Otago club website, is an “easy” rated trail that is 6km long.

“The track itself is not challenging, and is widely used by families and foot-traffic. I know that now is not the time for people to be engaging in higher-risk exercise activities,” he said.

“I don’t want to give anyone the perception that I take these matters lightly. This is a reminder to me to think carefully about how best to fit some exercise into my new-normal routine.”

Is this a big deal? There have been calls (from political opponents mainly as far as I have seen) for Clark to be sacked as minister for flouting the lockdown rules.

If this had been a general member of public it might have been criticised, but if the police became involved they would probably have ‘educated’ the driver/rider.

But is this a case of a Minister setting a bad example (now he has been outed)?

The rules over what we can do in the level 4 lockdown are a bit vague. We have been told we can go out for exercise in the vicinity of our homes but not to drive across town. We have also been told to avoid doing things that may end up requiring emergency help.

Clark is inferring that doing an easy bike trail at least reduced the risks.

A Nelson emergency department doctor, Tom Jerram, on Thursday said people should not mountain bike, even on easy trails, during the lockdown as they may injure themselves and take up hospital resources.

“We may not have the hospital capacity to treat you and we want to reserve all our capacity for fighting this illness,” Jerram said.

He lives in the vicinity so could have ridden his bike to park (and would probably not have been noticed), and that would arguably have been more risk (hill route but with low traffic).

But does look a bit hapless from a Minister that appears to be struggling with the huge responsibilities he has. And it’s a bit embarrassing for the Government.

It does have the appearance of one rule (or guidelines) for the public but politicians can do as they please.

Clark, earlier on Thursday, said he had declined to receive a highly anticipated review of the health system due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My singular focus is on the health response to Covid-19,” he said.

Except when he takes a bit of time out. A daytime excursion does seem a major misjudgement for Clark.

Another problem with this is that members of the general public may see this as a signal that they can push the boundaries of the lockdown.

I don’t know if this should be a sackable offence (I’m reluctant to jump on ‘sack him’ type bandwagons).

It is a very bad time to be bringing in a new Minister of Health – unless the prime Minister wants an excuse to put someone more competent in one of the most important roles in Government in the most challenging of circumstances.


This doesn’t help: Message from Cycling New Zealand around riding in public – keeping everyone healthy and safe 

this pandemic is bigger than sport and bigger than cycling and so whatever you choose to do, please know that Cycling New Zealand absolutely stand by following the Ministry of Health Guidelines found here at  https://covid19.govt.nz

Their guidelines are updated regularly and will provide you with the most correct and relevant information around what you can do to keep physically active whilst keeping you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

Alert Level 4 means we must severely limit travel, with driving only permitted for essential travel such as getting food or medicine from your local area. The best way to reduce the risk of exposure to yourself and others is to stay at home.   However, we do realise that people will want to get out and exercise.

If you do go out, please limit yourself to short walks or rides, following the government’s recommended hygiene guidelines.  Here are some tips to help you protect yourself and others in the current environment

  • If you can, ride indoors on a trainer or exercycle
  • If outdoors, ride solo or in your family bubble.
  • Ride from home.  Don’t drive and then ride.
  • Ride short and local so that you do not increase the pressure on the emergency services if something goes wrong. This means no long-distance or epic rides away from your region or extreme riding.
  • Ride sensibly and safely to avoid accidents and putting unnecessary pressure on medical services or expose yourself to the heightened risk of infection

Nothing in the ODT yet about Clark, but they have these two articles:

Dunedin residents enjoyed a balmy evening yesterday with a walk on St Clair Beach.

Tougher measures may be needed to deal with those breaching lockdown rules, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult says, after people were caught jumping off Albert Town Bridge yesterday.

David Clark’s responses to written questions – Speaker: “the breach was so blatant”

Audrey Young at the Herald, in scores of Ministers, rated Minister of Health David Clark one of the three poorest performs at 4/10.

Evidence today that supports claims that Minister Clark is may be out of his depth and performing poorly.

In Parliament the Speaker awarded the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions due to blatant breaches in responses to written questions by the Minister Clark.

SPEAKER’S RULINGS

Written Questions—Responses

SPEAKER: Before we come to questions, I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day. However—[Interruption] The member is running a risk of a multiplier effect here. However, Dr Clark’s response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas—Speakers’ ruling 160/3. In fact, that’s a key part of the role of a Minister. The House’s own rules for seeking information and its entitlement to receive information exceeds that under the Official Information Act—Speaker’s ruling 177/6. Where a written question seeks an unreasonable level of detail, it is open to a Minister to reply that the cost entailed in answering the question is not consistent with the public interest—and, in fact, Ministers have on occasion done that, from both sides of the House.

Our question system is based on the assumption that Ministers will try and give informative replies—Speaker’s ruling 178/5—and to account to the House for the public offices they hold. In this instance, I expect the Minister to lodge fresh answers to the questions—14351 to 15621 and 15974 to 16132—and, if it is necessary to use a single answer to reply to multiple questions, then the replies should refer directly to the substantive answer.

The Opposition has been denied the opportunity to hold the Government to account through this series of written questions. Therefore, I’m awarding the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions to be used today or tomorrow.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t want to raise any issue with the substance of the ruling that you have just made merely one of the process, as somebody who has lodged complaints along the nature of the one that Mr Woodhouse has made in the past. In the past, Speakers have adopted the practice that, before a Speaker would rule on a matter of written questions, the member would first have had to make a formal complaint to the Minister who lodged the answers in the first place. Then, second of all, the Speaker themselves would raise the matter with the Minister before issuing a ruling such as you have. My understanding is that you no longer follow that process. It would seem to me that if there is a sanction going to be applied, there does need to be some process of raising the matter with the Minister’s office before that sanction is applied so they have the opportunity to correct it where an error has been made.

SPEAKER: I’m happy to respond to that. In the vast majority of cases that’s a process I’ve followed. If the member has a conversation with the Minister on his right, he will understand that it’s followed quite regularly. But, in this particular case, the breach was so blatant that—and I hesitate to use the word which I’ve gotten in trouble for using in this House before, but such a blatant breach, in two ways, of Speakers’ Rulings and the Standing Orders—I felt that having that conversation was unnecessary.

Dying man and his wife prompt Health Minister to promise better cancer care, sometime

A dying man from Southland, Blair Vining, and his wife Melissa, put Health Minister David Clark on the spot at  the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington yesterday. Clark has promised better cancer care.

Providing sufficient health care is always going to be a challenge, but regional differences can be quite unfair on some people diagnosed with cancer.

Stuff: Southland man Blair Vining calls government to account over ‘lack of cancer action plan’

Blair Vining says if it was not for his persistent wife Melissa he would probably be dead.

The Southlander said it was the stark reality of his situation and was why he was calling the New Zealand government to account over not having a cancer action in place.

Vining was last year diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given six to eight weeks to live without any treatment.

The catch though was that he was advised it would take eight weeks to get his first oncologist appointment.

That is awful.

Vining did not have eight weeks to wait.

Instead his wife Melissa searched the private sector in a desperate attempt to speed up the process.

He was able to see Dr Chris Jackson in Christchurch and get the treatment process started within three weeks.

“It took 19 phone calls and a very persistent wife. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been in the public sector and waiting for eight weeks,” Vining said.

As part of the public health sector he said he overheard doctors talking outside his room about his inoperable status and he also had an infected IV line as procedure wasn’t followed through.

He also said at one point he had a six-hour journey for urgent treatment because no-one was available at the Southern District Health Board.

One would hope that people diagnosed with terminal cancer wouldn’t effectively be condemned to die for lack of health care.

At least in this case one dying person and their wife may be able to make a difference for others – if Health Minister Clark follows through on his assurances.

Stuff:  Health Minister David Clark commits to improving cancer treatment for all Kiwis

 

Health Minister David Clark has vowed to get the ball rolling a national cancer plan to improve Kiwis’ access to fair and consistent cancer treatment, regardless of where they live.

Speaking at the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington, Clark acknowledged more needed to be done in the sector and that he, along with the Ministry of Health, would be working to establish a plan.

Clark had the hard task of following a talk by Blair Vining, a Southland father dying of bowel cancer, and his wife Melissa, who took the minister to task.

“You have failed Blair, you have failed me and my children, and you have failed many other New Zealanders by not having a cancer plan,” Melissa said to Clark and the gathered crowd of cancer experts.

It looks like he was deliberately put on the spot by conference organisers, but at least Clark was there to listen.

“I am personally concerned about the growing inequalities [to access health care] and that is the main reason I chose to get involved in politics.”

“The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister and that’s why we’re moving towards … a national system.

“We are committing to an action plan and one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together,” Clark said.

There are positive signs that Clark understands the problem and will do something about it.

But there are also mixed messages from Clark about whether he sees it as urgent or not.

He said “The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister” but “one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together” is worrying – after 15 months as minister and being aware of the issue he now says they are at “early steps of pulling that together”.

He said timelines were up in the air at this stage, but he was committed to seeing change as soon as possible.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer and is told he may die within two months, and is unable to see a public health specialist for two months, then timelines being ‘up in the air’ is not a very solid assurance.

Clark often comes across as an earnest do-gooder who struggles with the doing.

Health ministers have to try to manage many priorities, but providing health care for people before they die should be close to the top of the list.  I hope Clark takes urgent action over this.

David Clark accused of cronyism after appointing another ex-Labour MP

Minister of Health David Clark has been accused of cronyism after he appointed former Labour MP Steve Maharey as new chair of Pharmac, against the advice of officials, and without following State Services Guidelines in considering a pool of applicants.

Clark’s history shows he has been appointed to a number of positions as he has worked his way into politics and up the ladder, and once he became a Minister (in Cabinet) he has made more than one appointment that involves political connections.

Clark is an ordained Presbyterian minister and practiced as one from 1997 to 2000 (he is still a celebrant and performed a civil union for Grant Robertson and his partner in January 2009).

He started his political involvement while working as an analyst for Treasury from 2003 to 2006, and was also appointed to a number of community positions:

  • Campaign hoardings assistance, Wellington 2005
  • Advisor to Hon David Parker 2006 – 2007
  • Dunedin North Campaign Committee member and activist 2008
  • Head of College, Selwyn College, University of Otago 2008 – 2011
  • Member, Finance and Audit Committee Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Trustee, Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Leith Branch Membership Secretary 2009 – 2011
  • Member, Otago Forward economic development forum 2009 – 2011
  • Dunedin North LEC Deputy Chair 2009 – 2010
  • Dunedin North LEC Chair 2010
  • Member, University of Otago Vice-Chancellor’s Alcohol Advisory Task Force 2010 – 2011
  • Deputy Chair, Otago Community Trust 2011 – 2012
  • Member of Parliament for Dunedin North 2011 – current

After working his way up the Dunedin North Labour Party administration he was selected to replace the retiring Pete Hodgson and won the safe-ish electorate in 2011.

He was appointed Minister of Health when Labour took over Government in October 2017. he made a controversial appointment soon after:

ODT (8 December 2017): Hospital rebuild chairman sacked; Hodgson given job

Health Minister David Clark has sacked the Dunedin Hospital rebuild chairman and appointed former Labour cabinet minister Pete Hodgson to lead the project.

When contacted, Hawke’s Bay consultant Andrew Blair said his role as Southern Partnership Group chairman was “terminated” this week. Dr Clark told the Otago Daily Times the rebuild needed to be led by a local person.

Mr Hodgson, Dr Clark’s predecessor in Dunedin North, served as MP from 1990 to 2011, and held numerous ministerial portfolios in the fifth Labour government.

“As a former minister of health, he understands the complexity of the issues involved,” Dr Clark said.

“He is indisputably a local champion, and  . . . is well connected into health.

Dr Clark’s other move is appointing University of Otago chief operating officer Stephen Willis to the group now led by Mr Hodgson.

So Clark’s university and political connections coming into play there. This left Clark open to criticism, which he got – War of words over Dunedin Hospital rebuild

Former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the Government has made the “wrong move for progressing the rebuild” of Dunedin Hospital.

“The announcement of the ultimate Dunedin Labour Party political insider and former Health Minister Pete Hodgson as chair of the Southern Partnership Group is exactly the wrong move for progressing the rebuild.”

Hodgson is probably a good person for the job, but there is a risk of it being seen as cronyism.

Now this week (Newsroom) Clark accused of cronyism over Pharmac appointment:

Steve Maharey, former Labour MP and ex-Education Minister was appointed Pharmac chair on August 1 to little fanfare.

But questions are now being raised about his appointment after it emerged Health Minister David Clark went against the advice of officials in appointing Maharey.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Health advised reappointing existing chair Stuart McLauchlan for a fourth term.

A report from 3 May 2018 advised Clark, “the Ministry considers sound reasons exist that support the reappointment of Mr McLauchlan”.

“Pharmac is taking on new roles that will have a significant impact on the health sector… They will require Pharmac to develop new capabilities to carry out these new roles,” the briefing said.

It went on to say: “Mr McLauchlan has performed well as the chair and it is advisable to provide for continuity during this period of expansion of Pharmac’s role. This is particularly so, given that a new chief executive has recently been appointed”.

It went on to recommend McLauchlan be reappointed for a further term of three years or, if Clark wished to change the chair, to reappoint him for just one year, while a replacement chair was sourced.

But Clark overrode that advice.

Instead, he informed McLauchlan that he would not be reappointed, and elevated Maharey to the board.

Opposition health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the move was “appalling,” and raised questions about the process involved.

While Clark had the right to appoint Maharey, he went against guidelines from the State Services Commission, which advises a position description be filled out and a wide-pool of applicants be sought before appointing board members.

A workflow for appointment processes from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet shows that the general procedure is to identify required skills and “call for nominations”.

Instead, a statement from Clark said the position “was not publicly advertised, which is within the Board Appointments and Induction Guidelines from the State Services Commission”.

Clark told Newsroom the appointment “followed the standard process for Board chairs and was signed off by the Cabinet”.

But Woodhouse said the process raised issues of cronyism.

“David Clark’s appalling move to remove the previous chair and appoint a former Labour MP to the role, all with no position description, no application process, interview, or any other input into the decision is cronyism at its worst,” Woodhouse said.

Making uncontested appointments, especially when close political affiliations are involved, are risky.

Maharey may chair Pharmac competently and without controversy, but questions could be asked about his credentials. He has been Vice-Chancellor of Massey University since he left Parliament.

He doesn’t seem to have done health as an MP. His responsibilities:

  • 1990-1994 spokesperson of broadcasting and education
  • 1994-1997 spokesperson for labour
  • 1996-1999 spokesperson on social welfare, employment, and tertiary education
  • 1999-2007 he ha\d various portfolios:
    Minister of Social Services and Employment
    Associate Minister of Education holding special responsibility for tertiary education
    Minister of Broadcasting
    Minister for Education
    Minister for Research, Science and Technology
    Minister for Crown Research Institutes
    Minister for Youth Affairs

Nothing health related – but Clark didn’t have much of a background in health either.

If there are no controversies over Pharmac (or the Dunedin Hospital rebuild) this may not be an issue for Clark, but he should take care avoiding too many accusations of cronyism.


UPDATE: more appointments with political connections from Clark – More DHB chair turnover but Health Minister says it’s not political

On Sunday David Clark announced three new board chairs for Auckland DHBs – Pat Snedden will lead Auckland DHB from June 1, Judy McGregor at Waitemata DHB from June 10 and Vui Mark Gosche at Counties-Manukau DHB from Thursday.

At least two of the appointments appear to be politically motivated with Gosche coming into the role having previously been a Minister under the former Labour-led Government.

Gosche was a Labour MP from 1996-2008.

McGregor served as the first Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission between 2003 and 2013 (two terms), appointed by Minister Margaret Wilson and replaced in the role by politician Jackie Blue (a National political appointment).

Pat Snedden was previously also a Labour appointee who says he was politically pushed by National’s Health Minister in 2010 – see Minister pushes health chief out

Significant pay settlement for mental health workers

Community and institutional mental health care has been deficient ever since mental hospitals were mostly emptied several decades ago.

Last year when 55,000  aged and disability residential care, and home and community support services workers, were awarded a long overdue pay increase (from the bare minimum to something relatively reasonable) there was a notable exclusion of 5,000 mental health care workers.

Yesterday the Minister of Health David Clark announced that this would be rectified.


Pay equity settlement for mental health and addiction support workers

Health Minister Dr David Clark is pleased to announce an estimated 5,000 mental health and addiction support workers will soon receive the same pay rates as care and support workers.

In an agreement with unions and employers, the Government will extend the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act to include mental health and addiction support workers.

Nearly half will get an increase of more than $3 per hour which means full-time workers will be paid approximately an extra $120 a week before tax.  One-in-five workers will get an increase of more than $5 per hour or around an extra $200 for a 40-hour week.

The new pay scale reflects workers’ qualifications and experience. It will be back-dated to 1 July 2017.

“This agreement puts right a problem created by the previous Government, which deliberately excluded mental health and addiction workers from the Care and Support Workers settlement. These workers often support New Zealanders when they are most vulnerable and they deserve a fair go. This Government has delivered that,” says Dr Clark.

“Ensuring our mental health and addiction workers are paid what they deserve will help deliver a robust workforce,” says Dr Clark.

The $173.5 million settlement extension will be implemented over a five-year term and funded through an increase to Vote Health.


This will go some way towards improving mental health care in institutions, community houses and the community generally.

Mental health issues impact on many things, including general health, education, workplace productivity, crime, prison overcrowding and rehabilitation.

Paying workers more will help get more and better care for people with mental health issues and their families.

This costs a bit but it should be money well spent.

Suggestions Health Minister tried to gag hospital staff

A week that began with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she would be staying away from Parliament as the birth of her child nears has become very messy for the Government, with Winston Peters and Shane Jones throwing bombs into the political fray, Minister Eugenie Sage under fire from Green members for doing her job, and a run of bad looks from labour ministers.

And here’s another, from Newshub: David Clark accused of silencing DHB staff over Middlemore

Newshub has obtained a voicemail and emails which suggest the Health Minister tried to gag senior staff talking publicly about the state of embattled Middlemore Hospital.

In one case he even appeared to promise a board member, who he’d sacked, another job if they shut up.

“I notice more and more getting reported that is really not helping at all, and I’m hopeful that there won’t be much more commentary,” Health Minister David Clark said in a voicemail to District Health Board chair Rabin Rabindran.

“My fear is that if you and I keep commenting, the story keeps ticking along. I’d rather not have distraction about who said what when.”

However Mr Clark denies this, saying he was “absolutely not” trying to stop board members from speaking out.

“There were a lot of conversations happening through the media and that meant there wasn’t clear communication about what was going on, and that’s unhelpful,” he told Newshub.

The voicemail was left on April 18th, two weeks after he sacked Mr Rabindran. In the same voicemail, Mr Clark offered him a new job.

“I would consider you for further appointments because I think that sends a message.”

If Clark and other Ministers under fire survive the term voters may consider sending them a message.

There is a growing impression that the Government is either out of it’s depth, or over the top arrogant. Possible both.

Nation: Health Minister David Clark

On Newshub Nation this morning: Budget 2018 pledged around $4 billion to fix the ailing health system. We ask Health Minister David Clark if that’s enough, and what areas are going to take priority.

Unusually Newshub hasn’t tweeted an excerpts of the interview as it happened.

Clark came across ok. he acknowledged that past Governments had dome their best to provide good health services, and New Zealand had one of the best and in some ways cheapest health services in the world, but was due a comprehensive review to try to determine the most cost effective ways of delivering.

Hence the Government are doing a review. And Clark deferred most questions to be being subject to the review. And he repeated several times that he wouldn’t say what might happen in pay negotiations (he is not directly involved) nor with future budgets.

So he competently didn’t really say much about what might change in providing health services.

There was little of value in this interview. Maybe next year, or the year after, Clark will be able to explain how he will improve health services.