Was Woodhouse Patient Confidentiality Breach Complicity The Tipping Point For Muller’s Resignation?
Was the Woodhouse patient confidentiality breach complicity the tipping point for Muller’s resignation?
This Tuesday morning’s shock resignation of Todd Muller after only 53 days as leader of the National Party following his successful but close coup against former leader Simon Bridges has got New Zealand’s pundits going.
Most of his parliamentary caucus appear not to have known until the announcement. A wit this morning texted Radio New Zealand commenting that who needed sport when we have politics.
Muller is no pushover. But, after a competent and assured first media conference and an encouraging independent opinion poll, things went off the rails that started to be reflected in internal polling.
Much of it related to the health system and quarantine challenges for returning New Zealand’s, especially but not only the flagrant breach of Covid-19 patient confidentiality by disgraced right wing political operative Michelle Boag.
He had to deal with the actions of his wayward MP Hamish Walker who first released a racist media statement about returning New Zealanders in quarantine and then leaked Boag supplied confidential information about Covid-19 patients to the media. Muller did address these (and to the latter firmly) although not as quickly as he should have. But at least he acted.
Nevertheless he was blindsided by both these actions and destabilised as a consequence. But compounding them was the subsequent discovery that his health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse MP had also received confidential patient information from Boag (different but similar).
Woodhouse would have been aware of the seriousness of patient confidentiality breaches from his own previous work experience in the health sector. He knew that such breaches must be reported to the relevant authorities immediately. But he chose not to – not to the Health Minister’s office, not to the Ministry of Health, and not even to his own Leader.
Woodhouse’s position as health spokesperson became untenable. Certainly, he could never become a future health minister. He quickly goes politically underground presumably on the order of a betrayed Muller. What was surprising is that soon after Muller also went underground. It is obvious now that this was to reflect on this leadership future.
Unresolved dirty politics legacy
A week is a long time in politics. Last week was so tumultuous and disastrous that it was almost impossible to recover from. Sacking Woodhouse would have inevitably had to happen. Muller was quite capable of doing this. But the damage was done, deep and irreparable.
It is now being reported that a number of Muller’s recently appointed senior staff were on the point of resigning. It is also likely that further revelations originating from Boag’s unscrupulous conduct would come out.
The ethically challenged Woodhouse may not have been the cause of Muller’s resignation who was already destabilised by Boag’s especially and Walker’s actions. His health spokesperson’s complicity in patient confidentiality leaks may well have been the tipping point into a political meltdown that engulfed him and that it was likely to only get worse.
A number of political commentators have observed that the National Party won’t start to get out of its mess until it acknowledges its legacy of dirty politics exposed by Nicky Hagar’s book of the same name in 2014 that revealed the ‘black ops’ running out of former Prime Minister John Key’s office. They are right.