'Unhelpful distraction': Health Minister David Clark resigns

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Jul 2020, 11:10AM
Photograph by Mark Mitchell, NZ Herald
Photograph by Mark Mitchell, NZ Herald

'Unhelpful distraction': Health Minister David Clark resigns

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 2 Jul 2020, 11:10AM

Health Minister David Clark has resigned as Health Minister after he became an "unhelpful distraction" in the fight against Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted his resignation and said it was "essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public."

Clark said it had been an "extraordinary privilege" and he had given it "my all".

But continuing was distracting from the Government's Covid response, he said.

He said he looked forward to having more time to serving his electorate of Dunedin North, and he intended to stand in the seat again in September.

He had already offered to resign over his beach excursion during the lockdown, which Ardern would have accepted were it not for the Covid-19.

He said the team had to come first and the Covid response was too important, so he had made the call to step aside.

With no community transmission and the focus now on the border measures, "it is appropriate for me to move on".

He thanked the frontline health workers and all Kiwis who made sacrifices to put New Zealand in a position to be the envy of the world.

"Now is the right time to hand over the reins."

Clark entered Parliament in 2011, replacing retiring Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson.
Appointed Health Minister when Labour won the 2017 election, he oversaw two reviews: the inquiry into mental health and addiction services, and Heather Simpson's review of the overall health system.

On a personal note, he said he had "mixed feelings" about leaving the portfolio and was proud of many achievements including putting more resources into public health.

He had some personal regret about not being able to continue to drive improvements, but he was also looking forward to having more time in his electorate.

He will be stepping down from Cabinet.

'Unhelpful distraction

The Prime Minister said in a statement that "David Clark contacted me yesterday to confirm his wish to resign as a Minister and I accepted that resignation".

"David has come to the conclusion his presence in the role is creating an unhelpful distraction from the Government's ongoing response to COVID-19 and wider health reforms," Ardern said.

"It's essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public. As David has said to me the needs of the team must come before him as an individual.

Chris Hipkins the new Health Minister

"I am appointing Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election," Ardern said.

"Our response to Covid is on a stable footing and I have full confidence that Minister Hipkins will oversee the portfolio with the thoroughness and diligence he brings to his other areas of responsibility.

"Post-election I intend to reassess who is best placed to take the health portfolio forward.

Health system 'needs rebuilding'

The public health system needed to be rebuilt, following the review from Heather Simpson, and it was a good time for new leadership, he said.

"It's been a busy but rewarding three years ... but it hasn't all be plain sailing."

"I want to put on record again that it has been an honour to work alongside the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield."

He said he looked forward to having more time to serving his electorate of Dunedin North, and he intended to stand in the seat again in September.

Asked he had been leaned on, he said he had made the decision to resign himself.

He said he wasn't pushed.

Clark said Ardern understood why he wanted to "put the team first".

"We don't need the distraction at the moment."

Asked whether the viral video last week had been the nail in his coffin, Clark said he had always been clear about his deep respect for Bloomfield.

"I want to hand over at a time when we're on a stable footing, and make sure there's not a distraction."

Asked about that video again, he said the "whole context" was important.

"I wanted to see that transition through to a stable footing," he said when asked why he didn't resign during the streak of zero cases weeks ago.

"We've got to the position now."

How the pressure built up

Clark has been under increasing pressure to step down, but he had been repeatedly backed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, even though she said she would have sacked him over his lockdown breaches if she didn't need continuity in the health response to Covid-19.

Clark recently announced his intention to seek re-election in his seat of Dunedin North.

Clark was demoted after driving his family 20km to a beach to go for a walk in the first weekend of the lockdown.

He had also gone mountain biking during the lockdown, though that was not as clear a breach of the rules as driving to the beach.

He also came under intense pressure over the bungles at the border in recent weeks, and was the subject of public criticism over video footage that went viral as he seemed to throw director general of health Ashley Bloomfield under the bus as Bloomfield was standing behind him.