An offer Ardern cannot refuse

David Clark
David Clark
Health Minister David Clark’s position is untenable, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would be wise to accept his offer to resign.

One breach of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations might be forgivable, but in taking his family 20km away from their bubble for a trip to – ironically, Doctor’s Point – Dr Clark signed his political death warrant.

He can no longer credibly stand in front of the New Zealand public and urge them to respect lockdown regulations he himself has breached, no matter with what good intentions.

Both he and Ms Ardern have warned the public in no uncertain terms that to breach the lockdown regulations is to place other people’s lives at risk.

For Dr Clark to then venture away from his local neighbourhood — even if some leisure time with his family was richly deserved — undermines the credibility of the public health messaging the whole of Government effort to combat Covid-19
is striving to convey.

Demotion to the bottom rank of Cabinet and being stripped of his associate finance role — one which as a former Treasury official Dr Clark was personally and professionally attached to — is a serious punishment, but it does not fit the misdeed.

Dr Clark’s transgressions, minor though they might seem in the grand scheme of things, were directly related to his health portfolio responsibilities; that is the role he should properly forfeit.

Ms Ardern makes the point that New Zealand is caught up in a pandemic, Dr Clark has been an integral part in planning and operational management of the Government response, and he cannot be spared from those duties.

This is a reasonable argument, but misses the impact of
Dr Clark’s actions.

In his ill-judged excursions he has sapped all credibility from his pronouncements and undermined his authority.

New Zealanders have been asked to make sacrifices which, no matter how unthinkingly, the Minister of Health does not seem willing to make himself.

Highly inconvenient though it will be to bring in a new person and get them up to speed in the massive complexities unleashed by Covid-19, better that than to have a health workforce and a wider population seeing a health minister saying one thing and doing another.

Dr Clark’s ruthless self-assessment that he has behaved like an idiot is spot on.

Even though it is out of character for someone who is usually deliberative and careful in his decision-making process, his loose behaviour in these instances is not befitting a person making life-and-death calls about New Zealand’s health services in a time of crisis.

In general terms Dr Clark has been a responsible, thoughtful minister who has been dedicated to improving a health system which faced multiple issues even before Covid-19 loomed large.

He has overseen commendable initiatives in mental health and authorised a substantial capital expenditure programme — including, most pertinently for his electorate, the rebuilding of Dunedin Hospital.

Health is a massive and difficult portfolio, one which until now Dr Clark has handled with competency.

In normal circumstances, a regrettable and understandable lapse from his usual high standards would be excusable, but these are not normal circumstances.

One excursion might be explainable; there has been widespread confusion and mixed messages about how far people can travel for recreational purposes under Level 4 restrictions.

But more than one, by a minister who of all ministers should have been aware of the restrictions, has created an enormous sideshow where there did not need to be one.

Both Dr Clark and Ms Ardern need, to use one of the Prime Minister’s expressions, to have laser-like focus on combatting Covid-19.

This is a massive, unnecessary and entirely preventable distraction from that task — almost half of the Prime Minister’s briefing yesterday was taken up with questions concerning Dr Clark rather than matters of state.

Difficult though Covid-19 might be to manage with a newly installed health minister in charge, it would also be a massive challenge for a distracted incumbent, one whose time may well be limited in the role going by the Prime Minister’s comment that it took an ongoing national crisis for her not to fire him.


 

Comments

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Has the author considered the possibility that Dr Clark does not agree with his governments response to the virus?

Flattout Didn't;t read the full article. it does not matter if Clark agrees or not he would have had his chance to advise the PM what he thought on this when it was being implemented for NZ. we will not know unless he comes out and says he doesn't agree. I suspect the PM has decided on the process for the whole of NZ after getting direction from her PM's and SME, those living in NZ need to carry out those wishes. Clark is in a senior position even if he didn't like what he and NZ is being told he still needs to carry out those wishes, the same and member of the Armed forces they may not like the order that has been given by a Commanding Officer but they like it or lump it have to embrace those orders and or wishes for the betterment of the country and other people serving. Clark needs to suck it up butter cup. Clark has no street credibility at all, looking back years ago would you respect a boss that said smoking in the work place and then smokes in his or her office? same thing.

I agree with Flatout. David Clark has been sidelined from the start for unknown reasons and we don't live in a Dictatorship. The PM is a ruthless politician and David Clark isn't.

So when will Simon Bridges resign? Although their motivations may be different both men have broken the rules. Bridges travels from Tauranga to Wellington and back every week. Let's imagine, as we are told to do, we all are carriers of the virus. Surely he stops once or twice for coffee, toilet etc. He touches doors, counters of shops and/ or petrol stations to say nothing of all the possible contacts in the Beehive, so he could infect many people and others could infect him. The internet is there to solve this, Mr Bridges. Use it and stop telling us you are a special case.

Simon Bridges didn't break lock down rules. David Clark did, he exercises bad judgement.

To get rid of a health minister who has had his finger on the pulse of covid-19 this year, and replace him with someone who has not, would be inconceivably stupid.

It puts the health and lives of New Zealanders at risk. For the editorial to say that it is merely "inconvenient" either ignores this fact, or places no value on New Zealanders lives.

Should he go at the end of the crisis - yes. But to get rid of him in the middle of the crisis, would be like sacking the All Black captain in the middle of the world cup final, and replacing him with a novice who didn't know the job or the team. Except lives wouldn't be at risk.

'Ruthless' now, is it?
Not 'smiles and hugs'?

Respect.

The PM has no guts. She's never fired anyone, and isn't capable of it. That's why Clare Curran wasn't fired for her messes, why Winston Peters won't be held to account and investigated, and why Clark won't be fired now.

Clark's demotion is a joke. He continues on full pay, but with less to do. More time for beach trips and biking now, I suppose!

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