Mother of all scandals backfires | The Jackal

29 Aug 2017

Mother of all scandals backfires

The Winston Peters super overpayment scandal is interesting not because the NZ First leader managed to quell any real damage by front footing the issue, but because a government department is leaking information to intentionally damage an opposition party in the lead up to an election.

When Newsroom editor Tim Murphy first tweeted on Saturday that the #motherofallscandals was about to drop on Monday, many people thought it might be related to Paula Bennett’s questionable history that has been hushed up by the threat of court action.

However, the truth of the matter was far less controversial. In fact it was rather disappointing to say the least when the Peters media beat-up was pointed out as the scandal.

So Peters was overpaid, likely through no fault of his own, because a form wasn’t filled out or entered into the system properly. It’s no wonder he didn’t notice either, being that his substantial income means such an overpayment over seven years would be relatively insignificant. Clearly the bigger story is how and why such private information is being made public, especially considering we’re less than a month out from a general election.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that political insider, Richard Harman, had written about how the National party planned to target NZ First prior to the Winston Peters "scandal" breaking.

Yesterday, Politik reported:

National sees path to victory

National is now going to target Winston Peters and NZ First in the hope of winning one or two per cent of his vote back off him.

They believe that will be enough to hold on to power.

This week will see the Prime Minister campaigning in Peters’ Northland seat --- an unusual move in a seat which up till recently National freely conceded it could not win.

So who knew what and when? Thankfully journalist Tracy Watkins had her eye on the ball.

Yesterday, Stuff reported:

Winston Peters, scandal and a recipe for revenge

Someone is playing in a very dirty and dangerous pool with the latest bombshell dropped on the election campaign.

But that still leaves some very big unanswered questions about how details of Peters' confidential tax records made it into the public arena. The last election was dominated by allegations of dirty politics. Is this shaping up as dirty politics the sequel?

It certainly looks that way, just without as much hacking this time round.

The story broke when Peters issued a statement late on Sunday admitting he received superannuation overpayments and saying he had paid the money back.

But social media had been going crazy all weekend after news organisation Newsroom started touting a story that was "the mother of all scandals". Newshub had also heard about Peters' overpayments and had approached him earlier - an approach he rebuffed.

It appeared that Newshub actually got the drop on Newsroom.

But were there others in the know? ACT leader David Seymour had earlier referred to Peters as a "charismatic crook" on the The Nation's multi-party leaders debate.

Former Inland Revenue Minister Peter Dunne had tweeted after Peters' statement came out "Lets see how the superannuation overpayment story looks 24 hours from now" - which was cryptic, but could be read as meaning he knew more, though Dunne now insists that was not the case.

That tweet in particular makes it look like Peters was being set up.

Others including right wing lobby group the Taxpayers Union also appeared to be primed.

That puts this into a very different category to the Metiria Turei benefit scandal - Turei went public off her own bat, to add some weight to the Greens' policy on welfare.

In Peters' case, details of his tax or MSD records appear to have been leaked, which is extraordinary and almost unprecedented for a political leader.

How, or who, was behind that may be beside the point.

Personally I think it's the mother of all points. This appears to be a right wing conspiracy to undermine Winston Peters. Clearly the key people involved should be identified and perhaps even vilified through the media.

It would not be out of character for Peters - who thrives on conspiracy - to put two and two together about English's timing.

So National will have to walk a very thin tightrope and remain above the fray on the pension controversy.

I think National has lost their footing. I very much doubt that a MSD staff member for instance could inform Tim Murphy, Lloyd Burr, Peter Dunne, David Seymour and perhaps even the Taxpayers’ Union without the National party hierarchy knowing all about it.

The story may or may not knock Peters out of the race if it damages him with his core constituency, the grey vote. There has to be a strong suspicion that was the intention behind the leak.

But if it doesn't, in a tight election like this one where Peters might be king maker, it could make or break the case for whether it's Bill English or Jacinda Ardern that occupies the ninth floor of the Beehive after September 23.

In her opinion piece, Tracy Watkins has cleverly highlighted the main issue, that the National party has just shot themselves in the foot. Peters is a smart cookie and will easily deduce who the people are behind the information leak, a leak that was designed to destroy his political career.

Because of their dirty tactics, the chance of a National and NZ First coalition deal is now effectively zero. It seems Bill English incorrectly and arrogantly thought that such a move would cut Peters out of the picture. The problem for National is that they always decline in the polls heading into an election. They also lack effective coalition partners, so trying to undermine the King or Queen maker, Winston Peters, is one of the dumbest political moves I've ever seen.

Such underhanded tactics by the right wing have clearly backfired, and National is in real danger of losing much more support if the real scandal gains legs.

Update: MSD told National Minister Anne Tolley about the Winston Peters' pension overpayment three days before media were anonymously informed.