It’s remarkable how we can all look and hear someone say or conduct themselves and come away with hugely varying understandings. Of course much of this comes down to socialised predetermination.
That is we have in our minds’ eye quick value judgments by the way a person looks, their colour, their mannerisms, their religion and or any previous experience of that person. I guess that’s why much has been made of Winston Peters ascending to the Acting Prime Minister’s role.
Some commentators have determined that the sky will fall in, and that Peters is unstable, erratic and or a maverick. I have yet to see any evidence of that occurrence at all.
In fact, if you reflect upon the times in which Peters has been in Government — outside the Jenny Shipley (Prime Minister 1997-1999) coup of Jim Bolger (Prime Minister 1990-1997) and the disintegration of the New Zealand First-National coalition — you have to say that he’s been a model minister in government.
More importantly, a number of commentators have attacked his litigation against senior bureaucrats and politicians.
Let’s put the record straight.
Under our constitution, once the election writs have been signed off by the Governor-General, the Government is in all respects a tad off a caretaker government. Of course, this is a must, otherwise the party in government can use its control of the powerful organs of the state to pervert a fair election process.
So in effect, during this time period, ministers are acting at arm’s length. There are protocols and ethics required of this period of government.
The Cabinet office releases directions over this period and affirms in paragraph 16 of Cabinet Office Memoranda (17) 1: “That the neutrality of the Public Service and other agencies in the state service must be protected throughout the pre-election period.”
The State Services Commission further advises public servants that “they’re on heightened sensitivity over this period and should pay particular attention to maintaining neutrality, not applying personal beliefs and providing unbiased advice”.
Polling in the 2017 election clearly demonstrated three things of the National Party’s support parties. The Maori Party were in “grave” difficulty, the ACT party were not registering and United Future was in Tombstone Territory.
National has always despised New Zealand First and Winston Peters. John Key campaigned to destroy them, and Bill English did the same in an attempt to take out the middle man.
National had a problem — they knew it and so did every bureaucrat.
It seems bizarre to me that personal and confidential information of an individual beneficiary was deemed by Brendan Boyle, chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development and Peter Hughes, head of the State Services Commission, who oversees the performance of these CEOs, important enough to disclose within this election period to ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett.
That’s why the court proceedings filed by Peters to get to the bottom of this leak is the absolutely correct response.
Notwithstanding this, I consider the leak itself is such a scurrilous dirty little act that it requires an independent retired judge or QC to investigate as well.
And if through litigation or via an independent review it is found that there was collusion between senior bureaucrats and Government Ministers, then they must pay the price as it would set a new low in New Zealand politics.
Surely those involved must have known that this information about Peters being circulated during this crucial election period would have a detrimental effect on Peters and New Zealand First?
Boyle and Hughes said they chose to disclose this information to the ministers under a policy of ‘No Surprises’. There is no law or regulation defining exactly what the policy of No Surprises is.
That policy falls on the integrity, credibility and honesty of senior bureaucrats. There’s no doubt, by their own admission, they passed this information on to Tolley and Bennett — absolutely no doubt.
Tolley and Bennett have both denied leaking Peters’ private information to media. English, while Prime Minister, said it would have been better if the two ministers had not been told of the overpayments. But someone did leak, and you must question the motivation behind this mid-way through a hotly contested general election.
That’s why, is it any wonder that Acting Prime Minister Peters is enraged? I am, because there has to be consequences.
This information about Peters was not about clever investigative journalism and would never have been obtained under the Official Information Act. The information was leaked to certain media outlets for what was to be an election sucker punch for New Zealand First and its charismatic leader.
All of a sudden Peters is attacked for initially seeking who passed on this information to that media outlet. Get it straight, who in their right mind would support a handpicked media outlet to drop this bomb on Peters? Why were they chosen and are they part of this sordid little saga?
For those that want to sweep this under the carpet by suggesting that Peters is somehow, somewhere out of order — really? What are their standards? What are there ethics? What are their values?
Winston Peters applies for superannuation. He was not an MP at the time.
• June 2017:
MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle is alerted to Peters’ years of overpayments during a routine briefing. He is informed later that the issue has been resolved. Boyle discusses the information with his boss State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.
• July 2017:
MSD writes to Peters, noting the incorrect payments. Peters meets with MSD manager and repays overpayment immediately.
• July 31, 2017:
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is informed by Boyle under the “no surprises” policy.
• August 1, 2017:
State Services Minister Paula Bennett is also briefed by the State Services Commission.
• August 27, 2017:
Newshub breaks story of overpayments.
• August 28, 2017:
MSD and Inland Revenue start internal investigations over leaked information.
• August 29, 2017:
Tolley and Bennett officially confirm they were briefed as was the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.
• October 2017:
Peters announces NZ First will form coalition with Labour.
• June 2018:
Peters announces legal action against Boyle, Hughes, Tolley and Bennett and the Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development.