Clark still committed to electorate

Dunedin North MP David Clark will stand for re-election in September, despite yesterday resigning as health minister.

A troubled few months for Dr Clark, who Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in April she would have fired for breaching Covid-19 protocols but for the demands of dealing with the pandemic, ended yesterday with his resignation finally having been accepted.

Public opinion, which has been largely and stridently disapproving of Dr Clark in recent weeks, proved insurmountable, Ms Ardern saying she and Dr Clark had agreed that his presence in the role was an "unhelpful distraction".

"David has put the interests of the team ahead of his own."

Dunedin North MP David Clark, flanked by Cabinet colleagues Kris Faafoi (left) and Grant...
Dunedin North MP David Clark, flanked by Cabinet colleagues Kris Faafoi (left) and Grant Robertson, announces his resignation as health minister in Parliament in Wellington yesterday.PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Dr Clark, flanked on the Beehive podium by fellow ministers Kris Faafoi and Grant Robertson, said the decision to resign again was his own.

"I offered to resign because of the mistakes I made in a personal capacity during the lockdown. That wasn’t accepted at the time because in the middle of a global emergency that wasn’t the time. But things have moved on and things are on a more stable footing now.

"I feel now is the right time [to resign] because Covid is going to continue to come in to our borders, the pandemic is raging, and it is so important that we get that response right.

"I don’t want to be a distraction to that response."

Dr Clark said he remained committed to Labour and his Dunedin electorate and would continue to be the party’s candidate in September.

"I love being a constituent MP. The people of Dunedin are amazing people, and there is an opportunity to spend more time serving them.

"I will be asking for their support in the election to carry on that role."

Ms Ardern said she would consider a return to Cabinet by Dr Clark following a Labour election victory, but not to a health role.

"I have not closed that door: as I say, I do think Minister Clark has made a significant contribution to Cabinet.

"I have made no decisions about any future ministerial portfolios, or any decisions about the make-up of any future cabinet; that would be premature. But yes, I would leave that door open."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins was yesterday named Dr Clark’s replacement, although Ms Ardern stressed that his appointment was only until the election.

Dr Clark’s position first came under stress in April when he twice breached Covid-19 lockdown protocols, firstly by leaving his home for a bike ride, then by driving to the beach.

Ms Ardern’s anger was obvious but Dr Clark retained his health portfolio, losing his associate finance role and being demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.

Dr Clark suffered a further reversal last week when footage of him stating breaches of Covid-19 quarantine regulations were an operational rather than a ministerial matter — which showed a seemingly crestfallen Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield in the background — was widely distributed on social media.

Dr Clark paid tribute to Dr Bloomfield, and said it had been an honour to work with him.

"He is an exceptional public servant," Dr Clark said.

"Thank you Ashley and your team for the work you have done for our country during our most serious health crisis in a century."

Dr Clark entered Parliament in 2011.

As health minister he also oversaw two reviews, the inquiry into mental health and addiction services and Heather Simpson’s review of the overall health system.

The Government also established a cancer control agency, and budgeted record amounts for district health boards for capital projects.

Dr Clark said serving as minister of health had been an absolute privilege.

"The team must come first and New Zealand’s Covid-19 response is simply too important, in my view, so I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.

"I could not be more impressed with how New Zealanders and our health system have responded to Covid-19. The response from health workers has been astonishing and I want to take this opportunity to thank the medical, nursing and allied health workers who have kept us all safe by putting themselves on the front line."

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