Dignified conclusion to fall from grace

David Clark, flanked by colleagues Grant Robertson (left) and Kris Faafoi, arrives at Thursday’s...
David Clark, flanked by colleagues Grant Robertson (left) and Kris Faafoi, arrives at Thursday’s press conference to announce his resignation as Health Minister. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Thursday was meant to be a good day for David Clark.

At 9 that morning he was scheduled to be at Palmerston North Hospital for one of the enjoyable aspects of being a minister — a ceremony to commission the first of the hospital’s two new linear accelerator machines for cancer treatment.

Having established the cancer control agency last year, this was another opportunity for the Dunedin North MP to trumpet the Government’s record investment in health.

He still got to talk about that success but not until two hours later, in Wellington, when he announced his resignation as health minister.

There is nothing so ex as an ex-minister: by 11.30 the Labour Party website had an expanse of white space under Dr Clark’s photograph, while his successor Chris Hipkins had already had health added to his already sizeable collection of portfolios.

Dr Clark’s departure was no surprise: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had as good as given him a vote of no confidence when saying only a global health crisis had stopped her from sacking him back in April after he breached Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

It was only a matter of time until he exited stage left, although the good folk of Palmerston North might have wished it was a touch later in the day.

As was said in The Lion In Winter, "When the fall is all that’s left it matters very much," and Dr Clark’s fall was a dignified one.

Supported by Kris Faafoi and Grant Robertson, Dr Clark demonstrated due humility, but was also able to run through a checklist of his achievements in the health portfolio — which are more substantial than he has been given credit for.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a touch frostier a couple of hours later, at pains to stress it was Dr Clark’s decision to resign at this time.

Not that he really had a choice to stay — his continuing presence was described as a "distraction", and Ms Ardern dislikes anything which diverts attention away from Labour’s core message.

She did not entirely throw Dr Clark to the wolves though; there was a strong hint that Dr Clark could return to Cabinet should Labour remain in power post September 19, although that would depend on continuing caucus support for him.

As his being flanked by two ministers showed, Dr Clark does have plenty of that.

Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
Jacqui Dean
Jacqui Dean

There is a strong sense in the Labour camp that Dr Clark’s travails, while to a large degree self-inflicted, were partly brought about by what they perceive to be unfair media coverage.

Exhibit A in this argument is the by now notorious footage of Dr Clark and director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, film which has embedded the phrase "thrown under the bus" into common use.

Whether the highlighting of Dr Bloomfield’s fleeting emotions was fair or not, this was only the final straw on an already heavily-laden camel.

Ms Ardern did not want to spend the entire election campaign being questioned about Dr Clark remaining in his role.

Much easier to let him concentrate on holding his Dunedin seat and then — she would hope — address queries as to whether he had served his time when and if he returned to a ministry.

At his press conference Dr Clark pre-empted the obvious question and said he would be standing again at the election.

Dr Clark is down, but not to be counted out.

Answer me

Tuesday’s Question Time was a frustrating exercise for Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, who wanted answers from Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage about her department’s tahr control plan.

The alpine beasts are once more burgeoning across the Southern Alps, but Doc plans to cull them have met opposition from hunters who wish to preserve their hard-built recreational shooting businesses.

In fact, the issue is heading for the courts ... as Mrs Dean was about to hear, repeatedly.

To all five of her questions, Ms Sage responded with a variation of "The matter is before the courts. It would be inappropriate for me to comment."

The Coach and Horses

The Lawrence watering hole made an unexpected appearance in Parliament on Wednesday, as local farmer and New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson found himself obliged to speak in the third reading debate on the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Amendment Bill.

"I did note there’s a wide and quite eclectic mix of charities in these Auckland amenities: the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, WaterSafe Auckland, Surf Life Saving Northern Region, and something called the Stardome, which I’m not familiar with," Mr Patterson said, desperately trying to fill his allotted time.

"We don’t have a Stardome in Lawrence; nor do we have a surf life-saving club or a philharmonic orchestra. We do have a pub [the Coach and Horses], though, so all is not lost."

The night did get better for Mr Patterson: his Member’s Bill to change eligibility criteria for New Zealand superannuation sailed through its first reading.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

Comments

It's an unfortunate but undeniable truth — Dunedin has provided a very undistinguished collection of MPs over the last 25 years.

Congratulations you've broken the record for the most analogies, metaphors and similes in a single article.
My eyes lit up like flying saucers at the very mention of 'alpine beasts' 'does he know something we don't about Clark?' , alas he actually means wee beasties. Keep up the great writing.

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