15 Jul 2020

Michael Woodhouse stripped of National Party's health portfolio

6:14 pm on 15 July 2020

New National leader Judith Collins has stripped Michael Woodhouse of the health portfolio because of his involvement in the Covid-19 data leak saga.

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Photo: RNZ

Dr Shane Reti will replace him and has been promoted to the front bench.

Woodhouse was given the Pike River Recovery and Regional Economic Development portfolios.

Woodhouse was tangled in the Covid-19 leak saga, revealing last Friday he too had received private patient details from National stalwart Michelle Boag.

Woodhouse did not tell the party's former leader Todd Muller or health officials that Boag had sent him four emails containing the private information for two weeks and deleted the data the day a State Services inquiry was announced.

Speaking to media this afternoon, Collins said Woodhouse should have acted sooner.

"When he received the information from Ms Boag, people's personal private information, I feel the right thing for him to have done would have been to advise her not to send him anything and it would've been better if he'd advise the minister of health straight away."

Judith Collins announces she has stripped the health portfolio from Michael Woodhouse and given it to Shane Reti.

Judith Collins announces she has stripped the health portfolio from Michael Woodhouse and given it to Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Woodhouse fully understood and supported her decision, Collins said.

He was a competent, hardworking MP, she said, adding she still had confidence in him.

"Michael Woodhouse I believe is delighted with the outcome. He has been given two great portfolios.

"I have no doubt at all that Michael will never make that mistake again."

When asked by reporters if this was her drawing a line under the saga, Collins said "I think we need to move on don't we."

Early this evening, Collins refused to tell Checkpoint if Woodhouse's number seven spot on the front bench would change.

"He's been a very passionate advocate in terms of health portfolio ...this was a mis-step but everybody makes mistakes. ... He might have acted differently if the information had come from a different source."

She intended working further on her reshuffle tonight, and her plans included bringing Simon Bridges back to the front bench.

She has also spoken to former leader Todd Muller today and would be slotting him into her lineup.

Collins also defended her deputy Gerry Brownlee in the face of criticism from Christchurch residents who objected to his promotion because of the the way the earthquake recovery had been handled while he was the Minister.

"Gerry Brownlee has spent years on the rebuild of that city, I know what he went through personally as well as professionally."

Collins said Reti was "delighted" to have been promoted to health spokesperson

Collins said she would be announcing a reshuffle tomorrow.

She said the country would have to "wait and see" about diversity in her front bench.

After the announcement, National MP Michael Woodhouse said he was "very disappointed" with the move.

"I've loved the health role, I think we have worked hard to highlight shortcomings in the government's covid response, but I am also looking forward now, I've got a couple of very important portfolios," he said.

Woodhouse had aspired to be Health Minister after the 2020 election, but summed it up by saying "that's politics" and he now had aspirations in his new roles.

His replacement will do a great job, Woodhouse said.

Collins and Woodhouse had a "really good chat" about his role in the party earlier today, he said.

"I'm just pleased that she has confidence in me to work those other two portfolios," he said.

The leak had already cost one National MP their political career - Hamish Walker announced he wouldn't be standing in his Clutha-Southland electorate at September's election, after he last week fessed up to leaking the private patient information, sent to him by Boag, to the media.

Judith Collins

National leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Earlier today, National's new leader said she would "look at the facts" and speak to Woodhouse today before deciding his future.

"I'm absolutely not at all comfortable with it [the leaks]," Collins said.

"I thought it was extraordinary and I've never seen anything quite like that. I'm taking this very seriously."

On his way into Parliament this morning, Woodhouse was asked if he was worried about losing the health portfolio.

"I'm looking forward to another good day and I'm sure I'll be having a chat with the leadership team and the caucus," Woodhouse said.

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National MP Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Dr Reti, who is ranked number 13 on the party list, was National's associate health spokesperson and has been widely touted as the man to take over the portfolio.

But he said whether he is given the portfolio is ultimately a decision for Collins and the leadership team.

"However I can help New Zealanders, that is what I would like to do," Reti said.

National MPs stick to their plans

National MP Amy Adams' plans to contest September's election appear to have not changed under the new leadership.

The Selwyn MP cancelled plans to retire in May to instead take the number three spot in the party's shadow cabinet under Muller.

Adams is the party's Covid-19 recovery spokesperson, a new portfolio created by Muller.

She said she intended to stay on at Parliament.

"Oh look I'm very happy with last night's result and for me nothing has changed, so we'll wait and see what Judith wants to do with the line-up and I look forward to working with her," Adams said.

Adams would not say if she put her hand up for the leader or deputy leader roles at last night's emergency caucus meeting.

The sudden leadership change hasn't changed East Coast MP Anne Tolley's plans to retire at the election.

"I've just had a lovely family holiday which has convinced me all the more I'm making the right decision," Tolley said.

National MPs that will not be running in this year's election include Jian Yang, Paula Bennett, Sarah Dowie, Nicky Wagner, David Carter, Nathan Guy and Alastair Scott.

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