Tony Ryall to retire

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 11:37 27/02/2014
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Health minister Tony Ryall announced today that he is retiring from politics.

Tony Ryall
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
TONY RYALL: Minister of health and state owned enterprises.

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Tony Ryall has confirmed he will retire at the next election, but remain a government minister until he bows out of politics.

"I am looking forward to being part of New Zealand's dynamic future in the private sector," Ryall said in an announcement today.

Ryall, who is minister of health and of state-owned enterprises, has been in Parliament for 24 years, starting as a backbencher before moving to be an Opposition spokesman and a minister of six portfolios.

"This is the right year for me to leave politics, and I'm up for the next challenge," he said.

"The Government is doing very well and the National Party is in great heart.

"It has been a huge privilege representing the Bay of Plenty since 1990 and having a senior role in [Prime Minister] John Key's high-achieving government. I've greatly enjoyed being in Parliament.

He said he had discussed the decision with Key and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, and said they were both disappointed but supportive.

"There is still a lot of work to do in both my portfolios and I appreciate the prime minister allowing me to continue my work in Cabinet until the next election," Ryall said.

Key said Ryall had provided "remarkable service" to both his electorate and New Zealand.

"Tony has provided 24 long years of loyal service,'' he said.

"In recent years he has been an extremely effective Minister of Health and Minister of State Owned Enterprises. He has also played an important leadership role among social sector ministers and made an outstanding contribution on many other fronts.

"Tony will leave the health service in far better shape than he found it back in 2008 and while we are really sad to lose him, we support his decision."

Key also gave thanks to Ryall's family for their support, and wished him "the best for his future endeavours".

Ryall entered Parliament as MP for East Cape in 1990 at the age of 26.

Between 1997 and 1999 he was at times minister for state-owned enterprises, minister of local government, minister of youth affairs, and minister of justice.

During the National Party's time in Opposition, he was law and order spokesman (1999–2005), commerce spokesman (2002 – 2003) and health spokesman (2005–2008).

Ryall said he was proud of his achievements throughout his career.

"Our health services have been transformed with a great effort by clinicians and motivated teams across the sector," he said.

"In 2008, the health system was on track to financial ruin but we've turned that around. My more business-like approach has provided more services and better care for patients within a tight budgetary environment."

He said he was particularly proud of achieving "record elective surgery, faster cancer treatment, and more-effective preventive healthcare for New Zealanders".

"Many people underestimate the importance of the health sector in New Zealand which amounts to one-tenth of the economy," he said.

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"There are some 70,000 people employed directly in the public health service alone."

He said that as state-owned enterprises minister it had been a pleasure working with English to oversee the Government's share-offer programme.

"Externally, the mixed-ownership model has forced increased scrutiny and debate on the performance of these companies, the service they provide their customers, and of their value to New Zealand," Ryall said.

"Across the wider SOE portfolio I've introduced an on-going series of strategic reviews. These enable the Crown and the board of an entity to consider the longer-term strategy and future direction of each business.

"This has already led to significant improvements and will generate further benefits over time."

National Party President Peter Goodfellow said Ryall had made an "outstanding contribution" to Parliament and the National Party.

"Tony will leave a legacy that very few will match," he said.

"I believe anyone who has worked closely with him would agree with me when I say he is one of the best health ministers this country has seen.

"There are many New Zealanders who are better off today because of his careful stewardship of the portfolio and drive to achieve results that change people's lives.

"Tony will leave at this election with the respect and admiration of colleagues and his opponents alike. I wish him and his family well for whatever new opportunities lie ahead."

Ryall's previous portfolios in the Shipley government included justice, state-owned enterprises, local government, youth affairs, and housing.

NO LOVE LOST

Opposition MPs, however, were not sorry to see Ryall go.

Labour spokesman for state owned enterprises Clayton Cosgrove questioned the timing of Ryall's announcement.

He said the prime minister's decision to keep Ryall on as a minister until he retired was a matter only for Key.

"I don't think Mr Ryall can do any more damage than he already has as minister for SOEs.

"I suppose the interesting point for me is the timing of his announcement - the day after they wave the white the flag on Genesis Energy, Mr Ryall takes a dive," he said.

"All politicians when they retire, look to legacy and I think that's fair enough. I think the sad thing for Mr Ryall, is that his legacy is bound up in presiding over the almost catastrophic failure of Solid Energy.

"I think equally his legacy will show that he presided over the sale of three key strategic assets against the overwhelming wishes of the public and then botched that process and that's culminated of course in the effective admission of defeat by the Government."

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said his departure would leave questions unanswered over a potential fraud case involving public money.

"His decision to resign does not absolve him from his responsibility to explain his part in the disagreement between South Link Health and Southern DHB," Hague said.

The Southern District Health Board has been in a battle since 2003 with Independent Practitioner Association-controlled South Link Health over the funds, potentially as much as $15 million.

The dispute is about whether South Link had permission to spend $5.3m in public funds that was saved on general practitioner contracts with the DHB.
 
"As recently as last month, Tony Ryall was denying retirement so what has led to this tur around?" Hague said.
 
"Ryall has not been a health minister that has looked after the health of all New Zealanders. He has been focused on the short term while ignoring the big issues that will affect New Zealanders like rising rates of diabetes, health workforce planning, and child health. "

- Stuff

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