Rob Campbell

Environment Minister David Parker was last night not commenting at all on the future of Rob Campbell as chair of the Environment Protection Authority.

But Parker’s silence spoke volumes.

Campbell must surely be for the chop from this job too, after Health Minister Ayesha Verrall sacked him as chair of Te What Ora, HealthNZ.

He can blame Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and reforms he put in place when he was State Services Minister for his fate.

In 2020 Hipkins and State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes tightened up on political neutrality in the public service.

Their moves allowed Verrall to sack Campbell.

She did so because of a LinkedIn post he authored criticising  National’s Three Waters policy.

“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.

“I have decided to exercise my power under section 36 of the Crown Entities Act to remove him from this role, effective immediately.

“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.”

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It 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. We do not make political statements or engage in political activity in relation to the functions of the Crown entity.”

Campbell might consider himself unlucky in that he has fallen foul of relatively new legislation.

The requirement for political impartiality comes from the  2020 Public Service Act, which was developed under Chris Hipkins as Minister of State Services.

While the Act was being drafted in 2018, the Public Service Commissioner, Peter Hughes, delivered a landmark speech in Australia on New Zealand’s public service.

In that speech, he described political neutrality as “the absolute bottom line to assuring an enduring career public service in the Westminster tradition.”

The Act itself doesn’t go into any detail about what political impartiality might mean; instead, it is left to the Commissioner to define.

It says the Commissioner may set minimum standards of integrity and conduct, including standards relating to the public service values and the public service principles.

The principles in the Act start with the requirement that the public service be politically neutral and that it must  act in a politically neutral manner.

The Act says explicitly that the minimum standards apply not just to the formal state sector structure of departments and Ministries but also to Crown Agents, which are Crown entities charged with implementing Government policy.

Both Te Whatu Ora and the Environmental Protection Agency are Crown Agents.

That explains why David Parker is not commenting.

The same logic that Verrall used to fire Campbell from Te Whatu Ora will inevitably be employed by Parker to fire him from the Environmental protection Authority.

For Campbell, this is yet another controversial chapter in a career which began during the 1980s with clashes with Sir Robert Muldoon, then Roger Douglas and then David Lange.

Muldoon called him a communist when he was a drivers union organizer. Then when the Lange Government began its Rogernomics revolution, Campbell was part of a travelling roadshow for party members along with current Reserve Bank Monetary Policy Committee member Peter Harris.

The pair put the case against Rogernomics while Sir Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble and David Caygill responded.

Lange was reportedly so annoyed by Campbell’s role in this that he worried that Campbell, who had become a member of the Labour Party Council, might succeed Margaret Wilson as president.

But by 1987, Campbell was a director of the state-owned BNZ along with (among others) Sir Ron Brierley.

The pair became close, and Campbell supported a Brierley plan to merge the bank with his own company to form what they privately called “New Zealand Inc”.

Their plan failed, but Campbell has subsequently claimed that it would have prevented both the bank and other major New Zealand companies from falling into overseas hands.

Through the second term of the Lange Government, Campbell had effectively swapped sides and was a supporter of Douglas on the Labour party Council.

Then after the defeat of the Labour Government, he moved into the Auckland corporate world and became associated with some of the city’s wealthiest individuals like Alan Gibbs and Trevor Farmer.

He has presented an ambiguous face to the public; on the one hand, chairing companies like Sky City and, on the other, writing opinion pieces on how the mainstream media restrict the ability of women to get top corporate governance roles by their lack of visibility in business journalism.

His linked in page has recently begun to focus on Maori and how they have worse health statistics because of inequities in the health system.

But it was his LinkedIn post on National’s three waters policy which has led to his sacking.

He said, “I can only think that this is a thin disguise for the dog whistle on co-governance.”

Act Leader David Seymour has been demanding Campbell’s sacking since the weekend.

But he claimed Campbell was just the tip of an iceberg.

“Much of the Wellington bureaucracy is openly sympathetic to the left, and that is a real concern,” he said.

But what has happened is that the rules changed in 2020 to strengthen political neutrality, and it was Hipkins who changed them.

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