Armstrong on Cunliffe

A very perceptive and balanced article from John Armstrong on Cunliffe in health. Extracts:

Sure, Annette King must take some of the blame as a former Health Minister for the appointment of the board member whose alleged conflict of interest sparked the ructions that have seen the board at war with that member and the DHB’s chief executive.

Indeed.  And it was known at the time he would probably be tendering for a major contract.  Why on earth would you appoint somone about to be so conflicted?

Cunliffe knew what was expected of him: neutralise health as a political issue in election year.

He is also smart enough to know that being effective required a radical change in style in the way the portfolio was handled.

Cunliffe’s approach has been in vivid contrast to that of his predecessor, Pete Hodgson. And presumably deliberately so.

In a portfolio where a political irritant at lunchtime can become a political headache by dinnertime, Hodgson had a tendency to stand back and wait for the relevant DHB to do something.

Cunliffe is far more hands-on and in-your-face. He is a new broom. He conveys a sense of urgency.

Just as well for Labour. For the floodgates opened after his appointment.

This is a fair point.  Cunliffe is at least attempting to manage his portfolio, unlike Hodgson. I do think the conflict of interest issues which tie back to Annette King both professionally and personally, should have made him hold off sacking the entire Board as it looks like protecting King (even if it is not).  I would have just removed the board member with the conflict of interest and then given the Board say three months to gets it shit together.

Cunliffe has not pretended the catalogue of mishaps and errors contained in those reports never happened. But they did not happen under his watch. He is painting himself as a break from the past rather than someone who got the job just because he was next in the queue.

And he is doing things differently, for example, breaking the unwritten rule that ministers keep well away from wage negotiations.

Again I am not absolutely convinced that was a sensible thing to do (sets a precedent) but again at least it is a Minister not drifting along.

The strong community backing for the board and the accompanying backlash against the Government have obliterated any faint hope that Labour might have had of recapturing the Napier and Tukituki seats.

And having local Labour MP Russell Fairbrother come out proclaiming that the only local people complaining about the decision are those with private health insurance is a contender for most stupid statement of the year.

The main worry now for the party is what Cunliffe’s wielding of the axe in Hawkes Bay will do to Labour’s party vote not just in that province, but in provincial New Zealand as a whole.

However, rather than being Cunliffe’s fault, the backlash springs from a fundamental weakness in the DHB model. DHBs are accountable to the Minister of Health for a simple reason. They are funded by central Government. Their assets are owned by the Crown. Yet they are supposed to be responsive to their local communities. At some stage the board of a DHB was bound to end up torn between having to be accountable to the minister but preferring to be accountable to its local community.

This is why I do not support elections for DHBs.  The dual accountability actually means no accountability.  Minister gets to blame the DHB.  The Minister should appoint the entire DHB (but consult widely on the appointments) and in turn be held accountable for how they DHBs do.

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