Andrea Vance profiles Tony Ryall:
He is now “a safe pair of hands” in Cabinet and John Key has charged him with another formidable challenge: guiding through the sale of state assets.
“I’ve never seen a politician last as long in the health portfolio with so little money and stay out of trouble,” Dr Smith says of his old university friend.
Mr Ryall harvested an extensive network of contacts as shadow health spokesman and immediately set about reducing waiting times in emergency departments. He even paid secret visits to waiting rooms.
The chairman of the national district health board chief executive group, Kevin Snee, says Mr Ryall has reduced deficits and waiting lists, boosted the number of non-emergency operations and forced district health boards to be more efficient.
“It’s provided better-quality care and allowed it to be better managed and better run.
“I think he’s made a big difference in the last three years.”
Doctors and nurses now play more of a role in decisions, Dr Snee says.
“He’s been very clear about including doctors and nurses in the leadership and development of a service. As a doctor who became a chief executive, obviously I think that is very important.”
Opposition MPs should take note. Ryall saw his job as more than just attacking the Government in the House. He worked the sector relentlessly so that when he become Minister he had clear ideas on what to do to make the health system better.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Geoff Annals says measures, such as authorising nurses to prescribe medicine, show “respect for the place of nursing”.
So some good praise, but also challenges ahead:
However, the goodwill is waning. Mr Powell says Mr Ryall has addressed four annual conferences. At the first, he “went down very well” and was well received at the next two, but in November “there was rebellion in the ranks and he was heckled”.
Mr Powell says there is a serious shortage of specialists and the Government is in denial.
The “discernible shift” among members is partly a result of Mr Ryall’s “insistence that there were now 800 extra hospital doctors since he became minister”.
Doctors are flocking to Australia, where first-year specialists earn $200,000. The annual base salary of those on the highest step in New Zealand is $206,000. There is also “growing resentment” that health professionals are expected to do more with less, he says.
Yet one specialist in Southland is on around $800,000!
Once Thursday’s Budget is unveiled, attention will shift to the public float of shares in Mighty River Power. It’s a job Mr Ryall has done before, presiding over the sale of stakes in Contact Energy and Auckland International Airport in the late 1990s.
“The public floating of shares in the state companies got a very bad name in the Rogernomics era,” Dr Smith says.
“But … he battled and won the argument with Treasury that you could do mum and dad share floats that would still get a fair price for the Government and proved it to be successful.”
On paper Mr Ryall, a father of two, looks like a promising candidate for prime minister – but it’s a job he doesn’t seem to want.
He declined to be interviewed this week, for fear of outshining his colleagues ahead of the Budget.
Tony is a great Minister, but I think the eventual successor to John Key will not be someone who entered Parliament before Key did.
In recent years, Mr Ryall’s flamboyant shirt and tie combinations have raised eyebrows around Parliament.
Friends say the dapper stylings are driven by wife Kara, an interior designer turned housewife.
“Tony’s dress sense is partly a reaction against being characterised as a boring accountant. Second, if you knew his wife, Kara, she’s very classy and has significant influence in that area,” Dr Smith says.
I can recall the day which led to Tony getting more adventurous with his shirts and ties. It was the full day caucus meeting at Te Papa in 1999.Tags: Tony Ryall