Bill Ralston's Happy Mischief

Bill Ralston: A cup of tea and a lie-down – 02 Mar 2008 – Politics: New Zealand Political News, Analysis and Comment including 2008 election coverage – NZ Herald

This is double ouch for Clarkists this morning. Bill Ralston doesn’t pull his punches;

Labour has the same capacity for razor-toothed rabid attack as a cornered rodent, especially when its own young are threatened. Never has this been more clearly seen than in Health Minister David Cunliffe’s utu exacted on the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

Having run around in ever decreasing circles over the storm in a tea cup about Owen Glenn, can no one in this country recognise a genuine scandal when it happens?

And it is with that start that Bill examines a scandal that will play out in the courts of the land in election year as well as from disenfranchised voters from the Hawkes Bay. National too, gets a bit of a hammering for not pursuing this with more vigour. To be fair to National though there have been repeated questions in the House over this saga, it is only since Cunliffe sacked the Board in such an un-warranted fashion that matters have been brought out into the sunlight.

Let me explain this appalling scandal in words even Tony Ryall should be able to understand.

A wee while back, Annette King was Minister of Health. Her husband, Ray Lind, was the chief operating officer of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

Against the wishes of many on the health board, King appoints Peter Hausmann to the board. Hausmann runs a company called Healthcare New Zealand and many on the board fretted that he, as a supplier to health boards, would have a conflict of interest as a board member. King appointed him anyway.

In a very short time, the chairman of the board discovered Hausmann was involved in email discussions over a tender for a multi-million-dollar contract from the board he was a member of.

A woman whistleblower in the board’s administration brings this to the chairman’s attention.

She alleges Annette King’s husband, Ray Lind, as a senior manager put pressure on her because she blew the whistle. She ends up being restructured out of her job and an employment dispute ensues.

Meanwhile, Ray Lind quits and goes to work for Hausmann.

Flak flies, King is reshuffled out of the portfolio, her successor dithers about sorting out the rolling brawl between the board and its managers over various contracts being awarded, and the people of Hawke’s Bay respond by backing the chairman and his board supporters by resoundingly re-electing them.

An inquiry into the murky goings on at the DHB rumbles away while there is yet another cabinet reshuffle and two-gun David Cunliffe takes over the job and refuses to confirm the chairman in his job.

Then, just 72 days after the re-elected board takes office, Cunliffe sacks them. He says the organisation is “dysfunctional” and it has a “rapidly deteriorating” financial situation. Actually, it’s only $7.7 million in the red, within its target range of coming out plus or minus 1 per cent of its revenue. David Cunliffe might not have noticed, but there is not a DHB in the country that hasn’t had financial problems and the Hawke’s Bay board’s problem is minor.

Cunliffe whinged to me that the board had publicly criticised him and the Health Ministry. Diddums. When you are in politics sometimes people have a go at you.

He accused the board of having a dysfunctional relationship with its management. Hell, if the management had been getting up to half the shenanigans the board alleges, no wonder the place was dysfunctional.

Cunliffe added another reason for sacking the board was that hospital clinicians were critical of it. When are doctors ever happy with their DHB? Besides, only two out of 120 clinicians at the DHB have ever publicly had a go at the board and one of those has since quit.

Sorry, David Cunliffe sacked the democratically elected Hawke’s Bay DHB because it was causing his Government grief and the board was exposing something rotten that began with the disastrous mistakes of Annette King.

Cunliffe then reaches into the Government’s nearly empty bag of tricks and appoints Sir John Anderson as commissioner of the board. Anderson has become Labour’s troubleshooter, renowned for pouring water on political brush fires, taking over the chair of TVNZ when it was causing Labour grief, then the chair of the woefully bad Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Finally, Bill is absolutely right when he says “If National can’t drive the dagger of this debacle into the Government’s heart, it doesn’t deserve to win the next election.”