7 Apr 2020

PM on Clark - 'I expect better and so does NZ'

5:12 pm on 7 April 2020

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reiterated that under normal circumstances she would have sacked Health Minister David Clark.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 07: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on during a press conference at Parliament on April 07, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Photo: Pool / 2020 Getty Images / Hagen Hopkins

Earlier today Dr Clark offered his resignation to the prime minister after revealing that he took a trip to the beach during the first weekend of the alert level 4 Covid-19 lockdown.

Speaking at the Covid-19 media conference this afternoon, Ardern said what Dr Clark did was wrong and there were no excuses.

"But my priority above all else is our collective fight against Covid-19," she said.

"We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response because David Clark continues to possess what we require as our health minister to take on Covid-19."

She added that it was not just Dr Clark's knowledge of the pandemic that determined he stay, but also his insight into the health system and its issues.

"I cannot lose the work that's been done nor the prior knowledge of the health system in this pandemic - he holds that so we will hold on to that, but he must pay a price."

She said it would have been challenging to bring another person up to see with taking up Dr Clark's role as Minister of Health, and she was not willing to sacrifice that time in the middle of a pandemic.

Ardern also repeated what she said earlier today, that he still deserved punishment and had been stripped of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.

"David Clark is under no illusions that I expect better and so does New Zealand."

His associate finance minister delegations will revert to the Minister of Finance, with the exception of where they relate to Budget oversight of Minister Grant Robertson's other portfolios, she said.

However, Ardern has not confirmed if she will sack Dr Clark after the level 4 lockdown ends.

Ardern said she had reminded ministers and every member of the caucus what the rules are.

Earlier, Dr Clark said the trip to Doctor's Point Beach was a clear breach of the lockdown rules of staying local and not driving long distances to reach recreation spots.

Health Minister David Clark

Health Minister David Clark Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

"As the Health Minister, it's my responsbilitly to not only follow the rules but set an example to other New Zealanders.

"At a time when we are asking New Zealanders to make historic sacrifices, I've let the team down. I've been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me."

He told told Morning Report he acknowledged that his ministerial judgement was now in question and that he needed to rebuild trust with the public, who were making huge sacrifices during the lockdown.

"The Prime Minister has made it clear that in ordinary times she would have sacked me but for the fact we are facing a global pandemic. I need to focus on the job at hand and make sure I don't commit any more errors of judgement."

The minister suggested he was unaware of rules regarding non-essential travel outside his local area when he took his trip to the beach and it only occurred to him after being pulled up at the weekend about a second breach involving a car trip to a mountain biking track.

Bridges understanding of PM's decision

The Opposition leader says he understands why the prime minister chose not to sack Dr Clark for breaching the lockdown rules.

National Party leader Simon Bridges.

National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Simon Bridges said Ardern was stuck between a "rock and a hard place".

"She and New Zealand are in the middle of a health and economic crisis like we've never seen in our lifetimes, and so to change ministers right at the moment, I can see why she wouldn't," Bridges said.

"That said, I think his position more medium term is terminal. He's been demoted, he doesn't have her confidence, and frankly by the look of it, he's not up to it."

Bridges said he and other opposition MPs did not raise the issue when Dr Clark appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee this morning because it did not seem necessary.

"Frankly, I don't want to kick a man when he's down, I think we know where things are at ... and at the end of Covid-19, the crisis we're in, I suspect he won't be a minister," he said.

When asked if Ardern choosing not to replace him as Minister of Health showed a lack of depth in the government benches, he said now was, "not the time" for those conversations.

"We're all in this together, but I suspect that would have been part of the prime minister's thinking here, that when she looks around, it's not apparent who she would put in a role that is very challenging in the good times, let alone right now," he said.

Bridges refused to draw any comparison between Clark's lockdown breach, and his own decision to commute between Parliament and his home in Tauranga.

"I'm going for work, I think essential work on Covid-19. David Clark, I think he should have been in Wellington here, doing the things that matter, when we have a national and economic crisis," Bridges said.

"I believe I can be more effective on the things that matter around Covid-19 with the focus, with the resource, and frankly to do just this ... asking and answering the questions that matter to New Zealanders through the Press Gallery."

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