Bridges claims ‘deceit and dirty politics’ – but who did the dirty?

Simon Bridges and National continue to go hard out on the leak of budget information two days before Budget day.

But who is playing dirty here?

RNZ Week in politics: National set the trap and Robertson walked into it

National used the information it found on Treasury’s website to set a trap – and it worked far more effectively than Simon Bridges could have imagined after Gabriel Makhlouf made his “we have been hacked” announcement.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson walked into a trap set by National when he linked the Budget “leak” to illegal hacking.

It was no such thing, and National had known it all along. A simple website search had given the Opposition details of some of the spending in yesterday’s Budget.

At the same time, Mr Bridges was giving a hand-on-heart assurance that National had acted “entirely appropriately” while refusing to say how it had obtained the information.

At that point, National had probably expected the usual response to a leak – condemnation of such behaviour and the announcement of an inquiry.

What it could not have expected was Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf dramatically announcing that his department’s website had been systematically hacked, and that he had called in the police on the advice of the GCSB.

That was a game-changer, and Mr Robertson seized it. “We have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a police investigation,” he said.

The implication was obvious – National had either hacked the website or received the information from someone who had. Whoever did it, their actions were illegal.

It turns out what National did wasn’t illegal – but I still think it was highly questionable. They were trying to do a dirty on the Government to grandstand prior to the budget going public.

Mr Bridges raged about unjust smears on his party and accused Mr Makhlouf and Mr Robertson of lying. The Treasury secretary’s position was untenable and Mr Robertson should resign.

He claimed Treasury had quickly discovered the huge chink in its security and had “sat on a lie” while his party was being accused of criminal behaviour.

This leaves some very big questions which have not yet been answered. If Treasury’s IT people knew what had happened, why did Mr Makhlouf go public with his hacking announcement?

Was he misled by his own department, by someone who didn’t want it known that a blunder had been made with the uploading? That’s hard to believe, because it must have been realised that National was going to blow the whistle on the website search.

Did Mr Makhlouf make the decision to call in the police on his own? Mr Robertson says he didn’t know until after the fact, but Mr Bridges rejects that. It’s unthinkable, he says, that a department head would make a call like that without first informing his minister.

The way Mr Bridges sees it, the hacking was a cooked up story to smear National and take the heat off the government and the Treasury.

But the whole thing was cooked up by National in the first place.

Bridges acted offended when accused of hacking, but he hasn’t hesitated accusing Robertson, without any evidence. And he is also accusing Treasury.

RNZ:  Treasury knew there had been no hack on Budget information – National Party leader

The National Party is confident the investigation into Treasury’s claim Budget information had been hacked will prove that Treasury “sat on a lie”.

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett, who asked the SSC to investigate, said her party would let the inquiry play out but stands by its assertion that Mr Makhlouf mislead New Zealanders.

It has previously said Mr Makhlouf should resign.

Mr Makhlouf says he acted in good faith.

National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report today there were two possible scenarios, and the situation was likely a bit of both.

“You’ve either got bungling incompetence, and I think we can all believe that could well be the situation, or you have some broad form of deceit and … dirty politics.

“And we need to see what’s going on here.”

He said the GCSB told Treasury and the Minister of Finance that there had been no systematic hack, but Treasury came out after this and said there had been.

“The reality of this situation is it’s pretty black and white isn’t it.

So as a result of a deliberate and concerted effort by National to exploit a data vulnerability at Treasury in an attempt to embarrass the Government we now have two inquiries, and National have called on the Minister of Finance and the head of Treasury to resign. It has also jeopardised Makhlouf’s new job in Ireland.

MSN:  Gabriel Makhlouf’s next job at Ireland’s top bank under threat

Irish politicians say they’re concerned New Zealand Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf will become the country’s next Central Bank governor amid the Budget “hack” scandal.

Pearse Doherty, finance spokesperson for left-wing Irish republican party Sinn Féin, told The Irish Times Maklouf should not start his role with the Central Bank until the investigation has concluded.

Doherty said it “wasn’t a small issue”.

“We need to make sure that someone in the highest position in the Central Bank has proper judgement,” he told The Irish Times.

Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party member Michael McGrath has also reportedly sent a letter to the Irish Finance Minister.

“The governor of the Central Bank is one of the most sensitive and important roles in our States,” the letter says.

“It is vital we have full confidence in the holder of the office.”

So National may succeed in ruining Makhlouf’s career. Robertson is unlikely to resign – and I think it would be a disturbing result if he is forced to.

Sure Makhlouf and the Government may not have handled the budget leak well. But this was a dirty politics style hit job by National, serving no positive purpose, and highly questionable as ‘holding the Government to account’.

They would have hoped to cause some embarrassment, and got lucky when it precipitated a shemozzle, leading to two inquiries and careers in jeopardy – not because of the initial problem, but because of how it was mishandled. This is classic negative politics.

For what? Some budget information was publicised two days before it was going to be made public anyway. National well know that budgets are kept secret until announced in Parliament, and there’s good reasons for this.

This sort of thing really puts me off politics – especially off politicians who try to engineer scandals that really has nothing to do with holding to account.

If there wasn’t other things keeping me going here I think I could happily pack up and go and do something else as far from politics as I can get.

This political debacle sets a very poor example. It is a form of bullying – political bullying, where dirty means are employed to cause problems that needn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.

Another thing that may keep me involved is looking at ways of getting our politicians to set positive examples, and save the hard ball holding to account to when it really matters.

Is there any chance of that? I’m probably wasting my time here.

Leave a comment

35 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  6th June 2019

    National did not ruin Makhlouf’s career. he did that himself by doubling down on the false “hacked” claim even when he knew did the web site had not been hacked but legally accessed through a publicly open front door.

    His only saving grace will be if he told Robertson of the “hack”and was told in turn to keep up with the “hacking” story by calling in the police.

    Makhlouf’s career is over because he will get thrown under the bus by Robertson.

    If this is off putting, how much were you upset about dirty politics when Labour sent Mike Williams to Melbourne to “dig up the dirt” on John Key?

    Dirty politics have been around since Adam was a cowboy. Politics reflect life which is as dirty as it comes. Lets see how clean Robertson is washed after Peter Hughes investigation.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th June 2019

      what evidence do you have to support this..’ Labour sent Mike Williams to Melbourne to “dig up the dirt” on John Key? ‘

      Makhlouf is off to Ireland..no harm done for him.

      All politicians should know about confidentiality re the budget.
      Mr Bridges tried to make political capital out of it,and as usual went about things the WRONG way.

      He is as sure footed as a 3 legged mountain goat.

      Reply
      • Gerrit

         /  6th June 2019

        Google is your friend…blazing squirrel.

        “Months of investigation culminated in Labour Party president Mike Williams flying to Melbourne to trawl through 11,000 pages of court records, apparently in an effort to link Mr Key to the notorious H-fee scheme, which landed entrepreneur Allan Hawkins in jail in 1992.”

        http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/vote-08/news/695248/Labour-trawls-for-Key-smear

        As dirty as dirty politics get. Yet nary a word from the compliant proletariat…

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  6th June 2019

          ‘apparently’….’nothing to hide…nothing to..fear’!

          Reply
        • Gerrit, I have the Bromhead (?) cartoon of Mike Williams and Helen Clark digging for dirt on John Key…he’s saying ‘Nothing but a boomerang and a two-edged sword here…’

          Reply
    • Ray

       /  6th June 2019

      It is not often that I disagree with you PG but on this I do, it is the loyal opposition’s job to oppose and point out the mistakes of the Government!
      They did this by pointing out a mistake that released information, not just to them but to anyone who wanted to do just that, search the appropriate web page.
      Labour (and their pals) seem to be suggesting a quiet word rather publicising the matter would have been more statesmanlike, this from a crew that for “nine long years” tried every stunt they could conceive to get cut through and just to remind you included bringing two dead snapper into the House to make a point.
      It is also worth remembering that the Government has been releasing favourable Budget titbits for weeks before the Day and in Nationals day there were no surprises because that was their modus operandi.
      To be honest what they did was once again show the present Government are not good at getting things done and when things go pear shaped they panic and fall back onto “Investigations” or it was some else’s fault!

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  6th June 2019

        Ray,I say Ray….Treasury is NOT the Govt!

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  6th June 2019

          Not getting things done ?

          M Bovis outbreak when it first hit during nationals time we found out that bio security measures indroduced when Jim Anderton was Agriculture minister !! had been left on the sidelines , so as to not upset Farmers.
          That bio security problem , which will cost taxpayers around $500 mill was largely dues to National ‘not getting things done’
          However The nats within 6 months of getting into office had changed the rules about high country tenure rule so that lakeside farms COULD go through Tenure review to massively benefit a few farmers. Funny that got done in 6 months while the GFC swirled around and many were looking a short working weeks.

          Reply
    • Gezza

       /  6th June 2019

      Lets see how clean Robertson is washed after Peter Hughes investigation.
      He’ll be as pure as the driven snow. If they can’t safely find an erk lower down the food chain to pin the blame on the whole situation will be found to have resulted from an unfortunate series of miscommunications & misunderstandings, nobody actually knowingly did anything wrong, & proseeses have since been put in place to ensure the situation never happens again. Would be my bet. But I could be wrong. Just have to wait & see.

      Reply
  2. David

     /  6th June 2019

    Well instead of Robertson/Treasury being honest and saying we left some information accidentally in a public place and those dirty National party players are doing their usual dirty deeds they decided to go nuclear and lie, mislead and smear.
    Makhlouf deserves everything coming to him, I want to know if he knew what happened before he went to the coppers, before he went full hyperbole about hacking with Robertson in full swing as well.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  6th June 2019

      Are you asking whether he did a false claim , just like Key did when he claimed he was deliberately recorded during tea tapes affair. ?
      he went to Police….. who quickly executed a search warrant on TV3, to stop the information he said to Banks being broadcast.
      Police said no crime and Key paid out for defaming cameramen

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  6th June 2019

        It was, of course, sheer chance that a recording device was turned on and accidentally left on the table…..

        Reply
  3. NOEL

     /  6th June 2019

    If poll results for Bridges don’t dive over this I guess we can suggest ethics have changed in NZ from a time before computers when a hard copy with security stamps and embargo notes all over it would more likely have been handed back.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  6th June 2019

      Personally I think Bridges suceeded in getting the limelight & embarrassing the government for the best part of Budget week, but the only people he probably impressed with this manouevre were hard core National voters & he probably annoyed more voters than he won over with his usual overblown faux outrage & claims of smears. Will wait for the next polls.

      Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  6th June 2019

      And therein lies a problem with the downloading. Nearly impossible to date stamp digital material with an embargo date (PDF’s certainly, HTML coded web sites not so much)

      If no date stamped embargo warning is placed on the material it can safely be assumed that the any material on a publicly owned and accessible web site, is free to peruse and distribute.

      Reply
      • NOEL

         /  6th June 2019

        “If no date stamped embargo warning is placed on the material it can safely be assumed that the any material on a publicly owned and accessible web site, is free to peruse and distribute.”

        Interestingly the media only used Bridges supplied documentation prior to the Budget release. They would have known it was covered by embargo. Of course Bridges would not have been aware that any documentation surrounding the Budget would have been covered by caveats prior to release date?

        Reply
      • Duker

         /  6th June 2019

        They never accessed the ‘source material’.
        The Treasury search engine provided part of a sentence around the searched for text.
        eg in your comments if you searched for ‘bridges’ you would get
        ‘the media only used Bridges supplied documentation ‘
        ‘Of course Bridges would not have been aware that any documentation’

        Bridges not aware that the material was embargoesd …please… he knew it was all a secret, thats why they were using a ‘hack’ to get part phrases of budget documents in the week ahead of its release.
        Bridges and his colleagues have all been Cabinet ministers, they know how the system works, and apart from their own porfolio would have known nothing of other departments budget ‘secrets’

        Reply
  4. Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  6th June 2019

      Worth a read in full

      https://techblog.nz/1830-Section-252

      “They may also not have authorisation, but the next section of the Act could well come into play here:

      (2) To avoid doubt, subsection (1) does not apply if a person who is authorised to access a computer system accesses that computer system for a purpose other than the one for which that person was given access.”

      “So if you’ve got permission to use the system and then use it for something other than the purpose you were given access for, you’re not hacking.”

      Be an interesting court case as the web site belongs to the public and as such we are ALL allowed to access the web site. Also in the article a precedence.

      “This was most visibly brought into play in 2012 when Keith Ng discovered he could access a lot of Ministry of Social Development (MSD) material through the kiosks thoughtfully provided by the Ministry in some of its branches. By providing the kiosks, MSD gave Ng access to the system – what he chose to do with it is within the the law.”

      Reply
    • Duker

       /  6th June 2019

      yes .
      Using information they obtained from intending to get around the security features of a computer system ‘could be an offence’
      Almost all hacks are exploiting of software features that most didnt know could be used that way …till they were.
      Public Facing is just a ruse, as for instance PGs website is public facing doesnt mean you can use that to ‘get into’ his system and find information that only he can see.

      Just as when the bank accidentally puts $3 mill into your account, you then cant claim didnt know it was an accident, and the bank has to live with their mistake as its my bank account.
      Computer glitches happen all the time, you just cant claim ‘they were incompetent’ AND then benefit from the mistake.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  6th June 2019

        Public facing is not a ruse, it is an attribute. The index was public facing by intent and design. They put the wrong data into it. It was found and published with glee. Then they lied.

        There was no money or goods to return. No crime was committed in the discovery of the error. No harm was caused to anyone other than that resulting from Mahklouf and Robertson then shooting themselves in the foot with a false accusation.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  6th June 2019

          The Court of Appeal doesnt think ‘data is property’ even when its oil exploration geoscience data downloaded from your employer
          https://www.lojo.co.nz/updates-article/Data-is-not-property-says-NZ-Court-of-Appeal

          clearly an absurdity for a clear cut case like that.

          They way to make it stick
          “There may however be a glimmer of hope for the prosecution of such crimes by focusing instead on access, control and use of data being a privilege, service, … [or] benefit, under section 249.

          I imagine this section will change now that parliament is aware of the details

          Reply
    • Duker

       /  6th June 2019

      The Google search angle was put out by Farrar. he should know better …or not …as he was in charge of Don Brashs emails when they came into Hagers hands. Despite Farrar screaming ‘hack’ at the top of his lungs – falsely as it turned out after checking the computer logs as it seems Don couldn’t use a computer as most people do and had the emails printed out.. and the printed ones were passed on.

      Reply
  5. alloytoo

     /  6th June 2019

    As the old saying goes, you can’t scam an honest man.

    Bridges may have set a trap, but it calls to the ethics of those that fell into it.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  6th June 2019

      Well, it may call to the ethics of the principal adviser to the Finance Minister. Bridges still has to wrestle with the problem that most people seem to think he’s a plonker & he continues to work assiduously on selling that image.

      Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th June 2019

      an honest man would have alerted Treasury and respected confidentiality re the Budget.

      Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  6th June 2019

      Alloy, many honest people have been scammed, probably because they don’t realise how DIShonest some people are.

      Reply
      • alloytoo

         /  6th June 2019

        The sentiment refers to the classic form of the “Hustle” which requires the mark to actively engage in an illegal activity.

        the “Trap” has to be engaged by the “Victim” committing his own crime.

        Reply
  6. Duker

     /  6th June 2019

    remember this security breach by national beehive staff .. no big deal said Key

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/80553821/national-party-budget-breach-that-wouldnt-be-good–john-key
    Asked about the tweet in his post-Cabinet press conference, Key said he had not seen the picture but it did not sound like a serious breach.

    Classic Key: didnt see it/read it/hadnt been briefed but then gives a pushback indicating he did see it.

    Key of course called the police in when He claimed he had been ‘recorded’ during a public photo op. Eventually he had to pay out for libelling the reporter

    Reply
  1. Bridges claims ‘deceit and dirty politics’ – but who did the dirty? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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