Winston Peters leak points to National | The Jackal

31 Aug 2017

Winston Peters leak points to National

The issue of who leaked information on Winston Peters’ pension overpayments to the press has dominated headlines for the last couple of days. But despite all the attention, the leaker hasn't yet been clearly identified.

Some of that lack of disclosure has to do with the press themselves, who won’t want to out a potential source. However most of the lack of insight comes from the National party itself, who despite a number of investigations being launched, are clearly stonewalling for time.

Yesterday, the Otago Daily Times reported:

Peters claims he is victim of 'filthy politics'

NZ First leader Winston Peters has claimed he is the victim of "filthy politics'' and is considering his legal options as three investigations began into how his superannuation details were leaked into the public arena.

Mr Peters is pointing his finger at the National Party as the possible "leak” to the media of the news he had to repay overpayments for his superannuation since 2010, saying it was an attempt to destroy NZ First.

That followed revelations that two ministers - Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley - were briefed on the overpayments by Government department heads under a "no surprises” policy.

National leader Bill English said he did not believe the leak had come from National and was assured by Ms Bennett and Ms Tolley they had not passed on the information.

There obviously needs to be some harder questions being asked about National’s involvement.

For instance, why was Anne Tolley briefed in the first place about somebodies private pension details? After the PM's Chief of Staff, Wayne Eagleson, apparently decided to withhold the potentially damaging information from English, Tolley then held a second meeting specifically about Winston Peters' overpayments.

Both of these briefings breached the Privacy Act, so why hasn't Tolley been interviewed yet about the leak? Why did the leaker give specific details to the media about the overpayment that were clearly designed to damage Peters’ credibility if it wasn't politically motivated?

Why was the ‘no surprises’ policy again abused when Paula Bennett was briefed on the matter? She has stated there would be no benefit to National if they had leaked the information to media, ignoring the fact that if NZ First was damaged some of their support would go her way. Why did Bennett lie to Jack Tame yesterday about National's political motivation to leak information on Peters to the media?

Why did the State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes, also ignore best practice and the ‘no surprises’ policy in order to brief Paula Bennett about information she could potentially use to damage one of National’s political opponents?

Why was a decision made to not brief the Prime Minister? We’ve seen leaks from the Prime Minister’s office before when Wayne Eagleson was John Key's Chief of Staff, leaks that were designed to damage political opponents and journalists.

Why should we trust the National party to tell the truth when they have a track record of lying? If dirty politics has taught us anything it’s that the National party is highly motivated to damage their political opponents by any means necessary.

Why did the head of the Ministry of Social Development, Brendon Boyle, interpret the ‘no surprises’ policy incorrectly in order to release damaging information to National about Peters? How extensive is this information gathering on political opponents and does it extend to other government departments and people outside of parliament?

Despite some media trying to blame the breach of privacy on an incorrect interpretation of the rules, the 'no surprises' policy is relatively straightforward. To provide information to a Minister, a responsible government employee must:

Be aware of any possible implications of their decisions and actions for wider government policy issues.

Advise the responsible Minister of issues that may be discussed in the public arena or that may require a ministerial response, preferably ahead of time or otherwise as soon as possible.

Inform the Minister in advance of any major strategic initiative.

The problem for the National party, their employees and the Chief Executives involved is that the issue wouldn’t have been discussed publicly if proper procedures were followed. If the MSD and SSC had adhered to the governments ‘no surprises’ policy, there would have been no leak to Newsroom and Newshub. The timeline of when National was provided with the information and when the leak occurred makes that patently clear.

It’s pretty obvious some heads must roll because of the breach of Peters’ privacy. It’s also clear that National party staff members and Ministers had a vested interest in leaking the potentially damaging information to the media.

The highly questionable decision by Eagleson to not inform English in order to provide him with plausible deniability, especially after Bennet and Tolley were provided with potentially scandalous information, also needs further scrutiny.

Considering English’s dishonesty over the Todd Barclay affair, is the claim that he wasn’t informed about the damaging information on Peters, when everybody else was briefed, even plausible?

Who inside National would benefit from English being left out of the loop while Bennett and Tolley were implicated in leaking private information about Winston Peters?

The potential for a complete meltdown within the National party because of how this scandal developed and was handled is clearly there. However it’s likely to occur after the election, especially if the Labour party under Jacinda Ardern forms a coalition government with the Greens and NZ First.