Peters drops leak accusations against Bennett, Tolley

It was obvious that all the Winston Peters accusations and litigation couldn’t stand up. He launched what was clearly a fishing expedition to try to expose the culprit.

Peters, via his lawyer Brian Henry’s closing address in court, has conceded that neither Paula Bennett nor Anne Tolley leaked information about his seven year superannuation overpayments.

Newsroom: Peters accepts National ministers didn’t leak

Winston Peters’ has accepted in the High Court that two former National ministers he had been suing for $450,000 for breaching his privacy were not the source of the leak or responsible for it.

In his closing submission today, Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry said both Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett denied in their evidence leaking information on Peters’ seven-year overpayment of superannuation – and the lawyer for the Ministry of Social Development and public servants did not challenge those denials.

“That left the MSD in the position that they now cannot avoid a finding that the breach was on MSD,” Henry said. “The plaintiff was expecting a challenge from MSD to the ministers, but the MSD has not challenged the evidence that they [the ministers] did not leak.

“That dual denial removed two of the options that the plaintiff, when it opened its case, was expecting to have examined in the court.”

That means Peters is no longer suing the National pair for damages.

This raises questions about Peters’ claims, and the cost he has inflicted on taxpayers to try to justify his accusations.

It also makes Barry Soper’s assertions that it must have been a National leak (with no evidence provided) look a bit silly.

Henry said Peters’ case was that under the tort of privacy he had a reasonable expectation that his private information would not be made public and what was disclosed had been highly offensive.

“In this case, the MSD exclusively held the plaintiff’s private information. Unless they can rebut the evidence there arises an evidential presumption.

“The larger the group [who had become aware in the ministry] the greater the foreseeability the matter would be leaked.

“The perpetrator will never front. Someone in MSD in full knowledge breached the plaintiff’s privacy and set off a chain of communications causing damage to his reputation.”

Henry said: “This is not likely to be a mistake.”

So he now asserts that someone in MSD leaked the information, but as there is no evidence suggests the assumption can be made. I don’t know how proof or lack thereof works in cases like this.

The ‘chain of communications’ led to journalists asking Peters about the overpayment, and Peters then went public himself. There is no certainty that media would have published the information. This is an interesting situation.

MSD lawyers claimed that Peters’ reputation hadn’t been affected by anyone but himself.

It is arguable that if Peters had just admitted making a mistake on his application and not noticing the overpayment, then paying it back when brought to his attention, then this would have blown over and would be virtually forgotten by now.

Instead Peters accused a swath of people for the leak with no evidence to back his claims, made assertions and denials that were inaccurate or wrong, filed legal action against National MPs just prior to going into coalition negotiations with National (I think without revealing the legal filing), and then proceeded with the case over the next two years.

Some have suggested he has simply enhanced negative aspects of his reputation.

There is a serious issue of the revealing of private information held by  Government department. That should have been investigated – although leaks are common and culprits are often not identified.

But the initial information Peters revealed himself, and revelations through the court hearings, have been self damaging more than anything.

As well as damages, Peters wants a declaration from the court that his privacy was breached.

The NZ First leader says it is necessary to have the tort of privacy recognise such a breach because in the digital world “the dissemination of [private] information is now in the hands of irresponsible persons… and politicians are not extremely vulnerable”.

At the end of his submissions, Henry clarified for the judge that Peters was now seeking the $450,000 in damages under his first course of action from all defendants together rather than seeking that sum from each.

That’s an odd switch. Maybe he realised Peters was seeking too much with Bennett and Tolley out of the firing line.

Questioned further by Justice Venning, he said the fact Bennett and Tolley could no longer be accepted as the source of the leaks meant that they could not continue to be included in the cause of action seeking that money. So the damages are sought, together, from Boyle, Hughes and MSD.

In three further causes of action, Peters is seeking declarations from the judge that his privacy was breached by the public servants in briefing their ministers and by the two ministers in accepting those briefings.

A challenge for the judge to address all of that.

A swipe at Kiwiblog fizzled:

Henry disputed a claim by Bruce Gray QC, for the ministers, that there had been no social media reports of Peters’ overpayment presented to the court that had occurred before Peters issued his press release announcing that news.

He pointed to a Kiwiblog posting about the risks for Peters if the overpayment news was correct. However he gave the court the date August 28 for the Kiwiblog comment, and that was actually the day after Peters issued his press release.

Whoops.

The only social media content appearing before Peters went public had been three tweets from the writer of this article about a possible major political story, and the tweets did not mention him, his party, gender, age or superannuation.

The writer had to provide a sworn statement in the earliest part of the proceedings and pointed out that intense speculation on Twitter had followed those tweets but that not one that was connected to his tweets had referred to or even hinted at Peters being involved.

The writer is Tim Murphy who has provided excellent coverage of the hearing.

Earlier, Victoria Casey QC for Hughes, Boyle and the ministry, said Peters’ pleading alleging bad faith by her clients would, if found to be so, be “catastrophic” for the officials. “If established, it would be the end of any career for them in the public service.

“It’s important that Mr Peters is held to his pleadings,” she said.

The bad faith accusation was raised by Peters in his fourth ‘statement in reply’ before the hearing began. “Mr Peters is not entitled to pursue new allegations of bad faith.”

(Henry later told the court he was saying officials had not acted in good faith rather than they had acted in bad faith. That was so those defendants had to disprove his claim rather than Peters having to prove ‘bad faith’.)

Justice Venning has reserved his decision, which he said was unlikely before the end of the year.

I expect he will want to take some time and care in writing his decision. I wonder how close to next year’s election campaign the decision will be released.


A (lawyer) comment from Kiwiblog (typos corrected):

I was astonished to read of Mr Henry’s concession that neither of Anne Tolley or Paula Bennett leaked anything.
If that is the case the claim against them will fail absolutely.

I would anticipate that Mr Gray will ask for judgement for Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett and that there be an order for costs against Mr Peters on an indemnity basis.

Yeah, costs. They could amount to a lot. Peters will be hoping to have costs warded in his favour for his remaining claims, but that my only balance out these costs.

Thinking about it, Peters was hardly likely to succeed in all of his claims, so was always going to be exposed to costs.

Winston Peters versus ministries and MPs nearing an end

The Winston Peters versus government ministries and heads of departments, and two National MPs, is nearing an end as closing addresses began yesterday.

There is no doubt that Peters’ privacy was breached, but despite Peters making serious allegations and insinuations there is no indication of solid evidence to back up any of his bluster. This looks to me like classic Peters – he has a long history of making accusations and not backing them up with evidence or substance.

Peters claims his reputation was damaged, which is rather ironic given the number of times he has tried to smear the reputations of others over the years, but his own disclosure to media of a seven year overpayment of his superannuation, and what has been revealed due to his own claims and actions in this case, are making it like more of an own goal.

Peters is finding that he can’t get away with bluster and bullshit in court like he has in politics for decades.

The case has proven that he has made false claims, in particular that MSD had conceded they made a mistake with his Super application form – it appears to have has been made clear in court that Peters made the mistake himself and signed in incomplete and inaccurate disclosure. For some reason he disclosed that he was married but separated, but he failed to disclose that he was living in a relationship with Jan Trotman. It was when Trotman applied for Super in 2017 that MSD became aware of the incorrect payments to Peters. They had asked for conformation from Peters that his details were correct in 2014, but he claims not to remember receiving the letter.

Despite all Peters’ insinuations and innuendo the case seems to have come down to whether it was proper for government departments to advise ministers under the ‘no surprises’ practice. Department heads have made it clear that the procedure was normal and proper, and also said that Peters’ claim there was a 3 month pre-election no disclosure period was not based on facts.

Newsroom – Expert surprised by Peters’ claims

Former top civil servant Sir Maarten Wevers has thrown doubt on three claims by Winston Peters that governing conventions were ignored by two chief executives who told National ministers about Peters’ superannuation overpayment.

Wevers, an expert witness called by the Crown defendants in the breach of privacy case brought by the NZ First leader, backed each of the two chief executives’ decisions and conduct in the affair – and told the High Court Peters was wrong on three claims he had made in court.

Wevers backed both Boyle’s decision to brief his minister, Anne Tolley, and Hughes’ decision to brief Paula Bennett.

“A high-profile, notable, and very public figure had received money through the state benefit system that he was not entitled to. That followed an error he had made on a statutory declaration he had made.

“The individual was a former Cabinet minister, sitting senior MP, leader of a political party.

“There were issues in play as to the integrity of the system,” Wevers said.

Boyle had not rushed to judgment, Wevers said, but consulted with the State Services Commission – whose advice was the appropriate “buttress” in such a situation between a department and minister. His briefing to Tolley met expectations and “given what was going on with Metiria Turei, this was a matter with potentially high public interest. “That was the context – if Mr Peters had become public, another MP had received money they were not entitled to.

“Ministers expect to be forewarned about this and to be assured that MSD had handled the matter appropriately and to defuse any suggestion there had been preferential treatment.”

Wevers said in his opinion Hughes’ briefing to Bennett had also been appropriate. “In the same position I would have taken the same course.”

That addresses (and opposes) the main claim by Peters in the case.

Newsroom – Words matter to these civil servants, Mr Peters

Journalists and opposing politicians seldom have the opportunity to precisely fact-check – with access to his documents – claims made by Winston Peters. But one government department has done it.

A Winston Peters interview on RNZ in August 2017 has featured repeatedly in his High Court privacy case.

Peters had denied, to RNZ, a report by Newsroom that he was billed $18,000 by the Ministry of Social Development for the seven-year overpayment, in an interview that also ran in a story on the Stuff website on August 28, 2017.

The MP said he repaid “way less” than $18,000 and then said it again:

“To say I repaid $18,000 is demonstrably false.”

He didn’t pay back $18,000. The court heard, first from Peters on day one and then repeatedly from others, that he repaid $17,936.43.

It was court evidence so is accepted as demonstrably true rather than his claim of “demonstrably false”.

In the same Stuff story, Peters made the following claims, all fact-checked by MSD in preparing for its officers’ time in the court-room. This interview was after he had looked into the problem, had it explained to him and received and paid the invoice for the debt he owed:

– Peters claimed the overpayment likely started in 2013/14. MSD staff and Peters confirmed in court it started on April 12, 2010, the day he applied for it.

– Peters said he had asked in 2017 to speak to the person who dealt with his case in 2010 but that person no longer worked there so couldn’t act as a witness. MSD witnesses told the court the staff member worked in 2017 at the same office, in the same role, and does so until this day. She gave evidence for MSD to defend Peters’ claim. An MSD witness denied Peters had asked her in 2017 if he could speak to that original case manager.

– Peters had said about his repayment: “The reality is a payment like that also attracts interest.” An MSD witness told the court she had seen this claim by Peters and it was wrong. The ministry never charged interest on debts it wanted repaid and no issue of financial penalties would arise unless fraud had been involved, which was not the case for Peters.

– Another MSD witness told the court she had seen in a media report in 2017 that Peters had claimed he had not received the full superannuation because his payment had been “abated”. She said no such abatement existed and the records back to 2010 showed he had been paid the full rate.

– Evidence from the official who dealt with Peters in 2017 said: “I remember reading in the media that Mr Peters was saying MSD had been unable to resolve how the mistake happened. That is not correct. It was very clear to me, which I communicated to Mr Peters in our meeting, that he had been paid the incorrect rate of superannuation as a result of his declaring at question 26 that he was in a relationship and completing the partner details accordingly. He had been paid in accordance with his declaration – as a single person.”

– A regional official said she was aware of Peters’ evidence that his application form was incomplete because he had not ticked a box on his current relationship status. “Based on all my service experience I do not consider the form is incomplete and I am not surprised it was processed in the form. The key information needed to determine Mr Peters’ relationship status was provided, i.e that he was separated.”

– Another official also challenged the claim MSD had made the original mistake. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times,” the case manager he dealt with in 2010 told the court. “It was hard to hear that I had made a mistake. I was upset because I knew this was not correct, but I had no way to defend myself.”

– Further, she said media reported Peters saying there appeared to have been an alteration on his application form and no one knew how it had been made. “Categorically, we do not alter forms,” she said.

– Two MSD officials recalled Peters having told media he had dealt, in 2010, with a “very senior” MSD official. The woman concerned told the court: “He referred to me as a very senior person at MSD. I definitely do not consider myself a very senior person at MSD. Case manager is hardly what I call very senior.”

Tim Murphy and Newsroom have been providing detailed coverage of the case (Murphy was originally included in the legal action).

In this story, they alleged Peters had made multiple errors on filling out his form, and dated his signature on it on a different day to that which he claimed. He has also cited in evidence an incorrect and irrelevant statistic about MSD cases involving relationship issues.

In this story, they challenged his claims over an MSD policy and a public service pre-election protocol.

In this story, the court heard three staff from the office at which he applied for super in 2010 would give evidence that Peters attended alone and his partner Jan Trotman was not there. Both the MP and Trotman gave evidence that she was there, but the three officials appeared later in the week and on oath repeated their firm belief that he had been alone at all times.

Yesterday final addresses began – Peters case: The dog that didn’t bark

The lawyer for Crown defendants in the Winston Peters superannuation leak court action says the NZ First leader’s evidence is like ‘The Case of the Dog that Didn’t Bark’.

Victoria Casey QC told the High Court at Auckland in her closing submission on day seven of the case that Peters had made sweeping allegations against the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the former chief executive of the MInistry of Social development and the ministry itself.but had not backed them up in court.

His statement of claim for damages over the leak of information in 2017 on his seven-year, $18,000 overpayment of national superannuation claimed the officials and department had acted in bad faith, but neither Peters’ evidence in court nor his lawyer’s cross examination of witnesses had attempted to confirm that.

The now Deputy Prime Minister claimed the disclosure of the overpayment information was for the purpose of salacious gossip and made deliberately to political opponents before the election but  he had not made the case for any of these central claims. “The plaintiff is required to prove his case,” Casey said.

“This case is, with respect to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the case of the dog that didn’t bark…. The silence is, with respect, resounding.”

Bruce Gray QC, closing for two former National ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett, who Peters is also suing for $450,000 in the breach of privacy case, told Justice Geoffrey Venning: “We have asked ourselves: ‘why are we here’? What is this case about?”

The lawyer said Peters had acknowledged in court he was more sensitive about privacy than many people and his desire for secrecy might have been the reason for his original failure to provide full information about his de facto relationship when applying for superannuation. “He did not feel it necessary to make disclosure of something he preferred” people not to know about him.

The MP had chosen to reveal to the public the fact of his overpayment and the MSD agreement that he should repay the $18,000. That was the reason it became known and had set the tone of media and public commentary. No other publication had occurred, Peters had provided zero evidence there had been ‘social media’ publications about him as he claimed and the fact two journalists had received anonymous calls did not mean a publication was imminent. The calls in themselves were not  evidence of serious harm to Peters.

He said Tolley and Bennett did not even get briefed on the extent of information provided to journalists by the leaker. “It seems they did not know there had been any suggestion at all that Mr Peters had lied, so could not have told anyone that.

“In any event the publication was not highly offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person. Mr Peters is not an objective reasonable person. He is more sensitive than average to privacy matters. His subjective views are not the test in this case.”

Gray told the court: “This proceeding is a defamation case in drag. We still do not know precisely what Mr Peters complains about.

Peters was seeking $450,000 from each defendant. “The plaintiff’s claim in this case is beyond extravagant and is further evidence for the genuine motivation for the proceeding,” Gray said.

“It is a shame this claim had to be made. It seems to arise from an inability to accept a mistake had been made, and a desire to punish.”

Victoria Casey QC, for the three Crown defendants, began her closing late in the day and will finish this morning.

She said: “Something happened that should not have happened. The fact that it did enter the public domain did not establish that the Crown defendants are liable at Common Law and MSD is not liable for unknown actions to the media.”

Peters had conducted the case in a way that made serious allegations about her clients in pleading but did not bring them up personally in evidence or in cross examination. She said to Justice Venning: “We do ask that you pay attention to who was asked what and more importantly who was not asked anything.”

The MP claimed  in the media in 2017 that senior officials had been part of a “cartel playing politics” and that “very senior politicians had been operating outside the law… in tandem with ministers.”

Casey said: “This is the case to which that privilege applied. This is the case where if Mr Peters had any foundation for these comments they should have been brought before the court. We have no evidence whatsoever about a cartel, a conspiracy and no questions to the ministers or chief executives about these claims.”

Despite all Peters’ public claims the case made at court against the Crown defendants seemed to come down to the decision the chief executives took to brief their ministers on the Peters situation after it had been resolved.

“There is no allegation pleaded or in evidence that the plaintiff [Peters] suffered damage from the briefings to ministers.”

In claiming that his reputation has been tarnished Peters himself has taken to court and called into question the reputations of MSD employees, department heads and two MPs.

It may turn out that he has enhanced his own reputation of a blusterer and bullshitter.

Anne Tolley’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit – Minister told husband, sister about Peters’ super

Former National minister Anne Tolley told her husband and her sister about Winston Peters being overpaid superannuation after she was briefed by the head of the Ministry of Social Development.

But most shots fired in court have been blanks or missed their mark.

Tolley and Bennett reject Peters’ claim that under the legal principle of ‘res ipsa loquitur’ or ‘let the thing speak for itself’, Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning should infer they disclosed the Peters’ information publicly.

Gray said: “They resist this. They say that neither of them disclosed the information.”

There has been no evidence produced of who disclosed the private information.

Newsroom – Two ministers and a drunken conspiracy

Could someone from the National Party, stressed, and slightly or heavily intoxicated have told journalist Barry Soper that news of Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayment was about to leak?

That was an implication from a series of questions from Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry in the High Court at Auckland today to former National minister Paula Bennett.

He did not ask Bennett if she was that person.

But when he asked her if she had a view on the “inference” which could be taken from Soper’s evidence on Tuesday that he had been told by someone from National, she answered:

“No. I’ve had many allegations made as to who may or may not have leaked this but I see no more validity in this than any other.”

Henry, who had called the NewstalkZB political editor Soper to give evidence under subpoena, said: “Someone told him about this coming scandal for Mr Peters. Someone he is leaving us to infer is from the National Party.”

It was in Bennett’s cross-examination that Henry, for Peters, suggested a National person had been Soper’s source.

Despite Soper declining in court to reveal that source, Henry told Bennett: “He had been told by a source that we are left to infer was from the National Party.”

Justice Geoffrey Venning interceded to say: “That’s your inference, I think, Mr Henry.”

In politics Peters is big on bark but often without evidence to back up allegations and innuendo and inference.

In court he has barely whimpered, and his lawyer Brian Henry has had a hard job inferring for him with a glaring lack of substance.

Perhaps the dog ate the evidence.

Defence closing submissions will conclude today, and will be followed by the closing submission by Peters’ lawyer.

Women running for office – underestimate themselves

“The biggest issue for women running for office is low expectations: women underestimate themselves.”

Anne Tolley, MP from New Zealand, speaks about barriers that prevent women from running for office. She was speaking at the 140th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, held in Doha, 6-10 April 2019.

What are the barriers preventing women from getting into parliament?

“I think probably the biggest issue is low expectations. So, women underestimate themselves, and they don’t put themselves forward.

It requires women to put themselves forward and they are a bit more modest than men.”

What can parliaments do to encourage more women to become MPs?

We have been looking at harassment, and some of the issues women face if they want to take up leadership roles. Social media of course makes it extremely difficult. I have colleagues who receive horrendous messages which are racist, sexist, make you quite uncomfortable.

The way some MPs act (mostly men) is poor and at times appalling in parliament and via media, and also the way some people act on social media, must deter many people, especially women, from considering standing for Parliament.

Parliament – Ministerial Statements – Mosque Terror Attacks

Opening and Prayer:

SPEAKER: Salaam alaikum. As part of our expression of sorrow and of our hope following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, I have invited Imam Nizam ul haq Thanvi to say a prayer. He will do so in Arabic and then it will be repeated in English by Tahir Nawaz. Following this, my colleague Adrian Rurawhe will say the parliamentary prayer in Te Reo, and it will be repeated by Anne Tolley in English.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I wish to make a ministerial statement relating to the Christchurch mosques terror attacks. Assalam alaikum, peace be upon you, and peace be upon all of us.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition): As New Zealand woke on 15 March 2019, none of us could have imagined the horror and terror about to be unleashed on our people.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First):

MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green):

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT):

 

Transcripts: Ministerial Statements — Mosque Terror Attacks—Christchurch

Unanswered questions over Hager case

The Police gave Nicky Hager a comprehensive apology and a substantial payout after they admitted overstepping procedures and breaking the law in their investigation of Hager when they tried to find out who the hacker ‘Rawshark’ was who supplied Hager with data from Cameron Slater and his Whale oil website.

There are unanswered questions about whether ‘Rawshark’ was a sole operator or a group, whether he/she/they were hacking from the outside or whether it was an inside job (whistleblower). The police failed to find any of this out, and Hager himself claims not to know.

The police made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and “was not a suspect of any offending” (which made their botching of the investigation substantially more troubling).

There is a big unanswered question over why the police went to such great lengths when they have made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and not as a possible offender – in contrast to their investigation of another acase where Slater tried to have The Standard hacked.

Tim Watkins goes over the case and in particular asks this in More questions from the Nicky Hager case.

Slater had reported the hack to police and quite properly, the police began investigating. However, they began investigating with such vigour they broke the law and were not honest with the courts. It’s a remarkable series of events that appears to go beyond ineptitude, to something more deliberate.

In a country where victims of burglary often complain about the slow response from police and around the time that the national burglary resolution rate (2015) was a record low 9.3 per cent, it’s curious that police would expend such resources on this computer.

But most notably there were other dodgy dealings with computers in the news around the same time, as well. Dirty Politics itself revealed that Slater and National Party staffer and others had been rooting around in the back-end of the Labour Party website. Hager had alleged that one of those who had been in the site was a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office. While Police admitted in their statement yesterday that Hager “was not a suspect of any offending”, there were questions being asked at the time about the legality of that behaviour. Yet nothing so rigorous was undertaken.

Also around the same time, the victim of Rawshark’s hack – Cameraon Slater – was himself commissioning Ben Rachinger to hack The Standard website to establish whether Labour MPs and staff were anonymously writing for the Labour-aligned blog. Rachinger turned whistle blower, leading to a story by me and Lisa Owen that saw Slater finally charged with attempting to procure a hack. He admitted guilt and received diversion.

Slater had to admit guilt to qualify for diversion, but he later suggested on Whale oil that this wasn’t sincere – if so that would make it misleading the court.

I know from my work on that story and my repeated calls to police how slow they were to act on Slater’s actions.

Quite reasonably, police have pointed out that Rawshark’s actual hack (with the potential for a seven year prison sentence) was a worse offence than Slater’s attempted and failed hack (with a maximum sentence of two and a half years).

But when you consider such extensive efforts on one side (where there was serious public interest in the behaviour of people in and around government) and such reluctance to investigate on the other (where, while embarrassing, the ‘crime’ of writing anonymous blog posts was much the lesser justification for a hack), it does raise questions.

The biggest being: Why?

The next question is who: Who made the decisions to deceive the court and the third parties? Who made the decision to conduct the raid in such a way that breached his rights to journalistic privilege? Who breached the Bill of Rights by their approaches to third parties?

Who in the police was responsible, culpable, is an important question.

The dark shadow hanging over all this is political. The police investigation was into a journalist who had made serious allegations against the sitting government of the day. Those are the times when police have to be at their scrupulous best, their most transparent and their most even-handed. Yet they were not.

If the police don’t clear this up they leave a dark political shadow hanging.

At the very least the public needs clear assurances from Police bosses and the Police Ministers around that time – Anne Tolley and Michael Woodhouse – that the politics at play did not influence the investigation. Without honest and frank interviews addressing these questions, how can the public’s trust in police not be effected.

Police officials have not fully discharged their duty yet.

I agree. Perhaps the media can get some honest and frank answers from Tolley and Woodhouse.

And the police need to front up on this. Unless they do that serious questions will remain.

Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

Conflicting reports this morning on whether Winston Peters has dropped legal action against the National Party and National MPs.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters hasn’t dropped legal action against National Party

NZ First leader Winston Peters has agreed to drop his legal action and pay costs to former National Party leader Bill English and other former ministers over the leak of his superannuation overpayments.

Peters was taking legal action against English, Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley as well as two staff members while trying to uncover who leaked details of his superannuation overpayments to the media before last year’s election.

It is understood Peters has now agreed to withdraw the legal action and pay some of the legal costs for the National Party MPs and staff – believed to be about $10,000.

The National side had said they would take further action on costs if a settlement was not reached.

But Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry has just been on RNZ and has stated that this is incorrect.

He said that the first legal action was over – on behalf of Peters he had sought documents, and as is normal when that happens, costs needed to be paid. he wouldn’t confirm or deny the amount of costs.

The defendants will be identified when the next legal claim is lodged. Bill English, Paula Bennett, Anne Tolley, former ministerial staff Wayne Eagleson and Clark Hennessy, and journalists Lloyd Burr and Tim Murphy were included in the first action.

Henry would only say that action has been dropped against the two journalists. He says that they were never intended to be a part of the eventual legal action.

But he refused to say which of the MPs and staff might be still subject to future legal action.

Henry said no statement of claim has been lodged, and would not say when that was likely to happen – he said that these things take time.

The Nation: welfare, social investment and poverty

This morning on The Nation :

What’s the best way to provide for those who need help? and talk welfare, social investment and child poverty.

These are two MPs not generally to the forefront of election campaigning. Tolley is 11th on National’s list, Sepuloni is 8th on Labour’s. Both are electorate MPs.


Tolley talking about what the Government has been doing to improve help for beneficiaries, and what is planned to happen in April next year through their Families Package.

Sepuloni is doing little more than reciting Labour’s election lines, in line with what Ardern and others recite. Some of them quite are quite misleading.

The main points from al of the panel – Lisa Owen, Patrick Gower, Fran O’Sullivan and Sue Bradford – was the vagueness and stark lack of policy on welfare from a quite likely incoming Government led by Labour. Fairly scathing from all of them.

More punitive policy from National

National are rattling off policies that seem more intent on targeting voter demographics and ignoring evidence based approaches to issues.

Yesterday:

National will help more young people become drug free, move off the benefit and get a job to help ensure they reach their potential.

“Most of our young people are doing incredibly well. There are more job opportunities and more support than ever in our country, as a result of our strong economic growth,” Social Development Spokesperson Anne Tolley says.

“But some young people on a benefit need more support. National is committed to helping them into work to ensure they can stand on their own two feet.”

National will invest $72 million over the next four years to support beneficiaries under 25 years of age by:

  • Guaranteeing work experience or training for those who have been on a jobseekers benefit for six months or longer, and financial management training to help them develop financial responsibility
  • Providing rehabilitation services if drug use is identified as a barrier to employment
  • Ensuring all young people under 25 who are on a job seekers benefit receive intensive one-on-one case management to get a job.

“Only 10 per cent of young people who go on a jobseekers benefit stay for more than six months – but for those that do, their average time on benefit is almost 10 years,” Mrs Tolley says. “We want to invest early, and give them one on one support so they can develop the skills they need to move into the workforce.

“We will guarantee them access to work experience or training courses designed specifically to get them ready for work.

“In addition, one in five beneficiaries tell us that drug use is a barrier to them getting a job – so we are increasing the support we give them to kick drug use and get work ready.”

National will also place obligations on those who do not take up the significant opportunities available in New Zealand to start work or training.

A contentious component of this policy:

Job seekers without children who refuse work experience or training or recreational drug rehabilitation will lose 50 per cent of their benefit entitlement after four weeks of not meeting their obligations, with further reductions if that continues. This will also apply to those who continue to fail recreational drug tests, where these are requested by prospective employers.

The lower benefit payments will only be able to be used for essential needs such as rent and food – like we currently do with our Money Management programme for 16 to 19 year olds.

Lower benefits for drug addicts is also likely to result in them committing more crime to feed themselves and their habit.

“This significant extra support we are announcing today will come with obligations and personal responsibilities, so those who won’t take the opportunities available to them will lose all or part of their benefit until they take steps to turn their lives around.

“We know benefit sanctions are an effective tool to help people into work, as 95 per cent of people who receive a formal warning meet their obligations within four weeks.”

Any benefit reductions will be made at the discretion of WINZ staff, to take account of individual circumstances. And once individuals decide to meet their obligations, benefits will be reinstated.

“New Zealanders are creating real opportunities for themselves and for New Zealand, through hard work and a commitment to doing better. National supports those efforts and is focused on helping all New Zealanders get ahead, even our most vulnerable,” Mrs Tolley says.

The Drug Foundation has concerns about the punitive approach to dealing with drug addiction.

RNZ: New sanctions could push young beneficiaries to P

Putting further sanctions on young beneficiaries who use drugs could push them from cannabis to methamphetamine because it’s harder to detect, the Drug Foundation warns.

if an under-25 year old, with no children, refused to do work experience and training, or continued to fail drug tests, their benefit would be halved after four weeks of not meeting obligations.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said that risked unintended consequences.

“Drug testing can encourage people to move away from using easy to detect drugs like cannabis, to harder to detect drugs like methamphetamine,” he said.

Mr Bell argued the policy failed to take into account the stages of beating chronic drug dependency.

“Drug dependency is a chronic and relapsing condition, so people might be in recovery, but they might slip – they might fall off the wagon. Is the government going to sanction them for something that seems to be a natural part of the drug recovery process?”

Figures provided to the Drug Foundation by the Ministry of Social Development showed that of the more than 100,000 beneficiaries who failed to meet some sort of obligation in the year to the end of June 2016, just 144 of those failures were to do with drugs.

So it is a relatively small part of the problem.

Benefit advocate Kay Brereton said while the focus on young people was great, it was hard to build their trust when the threat of sanctions loomed large.

“When people’s benefits get sanctioned, they’ve got this choice between ‘do I have somewhere to live or do I eat food’. I think for the young people we’re talking about, they will choose to have food and they will have nowhere to live. They may end up couchsurfing.

“Do you want to hire someone who doesn’t even have stable accommodation – are they going to still be in the same city next week?”

But National social development spokesperson Anne Tolley said sanctions worked.

“Ninety-five percent comply, but then you know it’s a personal choice for people. Very few turn up looking for social housing, but the numbers are very small,” she said.

Addiction is not really a ‘personal choice’. It is more of a medical condition, and punitive penalties are unlikely to address that effectively.

Using beneficiaries and drug addicts to try and attract a few votes seems a silly and cynical approach, but that’s what National has been tending to do more of as they try to hold onto power.

This is disappointing. National are looking increasingly undeserving of being returned to power.

Questions over ‘no surprises’ policy

Audrey Young writes Peters’ case highlights an abuse of the ‘no surprises’ policy

No story with Winston Peters at the centre of it was ever going to be a one-day wonder.

And it just got a whole lot more serious.

There are disturbing and unanswered questions about his superannuation overpayment, whether you think he is the victim of a media beat-up, or are not willing to accept his assurance it was an error without proof.

The Government is now at the centre of the controversy after an admission by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley to the Herald.

She said she was told on August 15 by an official about MSD’s private meeting with Peters and what the subject of the meeting was – well after the meeting, well after he had paid back the money.

She was technically told under the “no surprises” policy, in which the public service chiefs and SOE boards forewarn ministers of issues that could suddenly become news and which will require their response. The “and” is important.

The fact that Tolley is unwilling to discuss the issue any further because it is a private matter is evidence enough that she should not have been told in the first place.

It is an abuse of the no-surprises policy. No minister should have been privy to that sort of information any more than the Health Minister should receive reports on any hip replacement operation Peters might have.

If Tolley had no expectation of receiving such information, she should say so publicly and conclude that the ministry’s decision was a misjudgment.

If she doesn’t, it is safe to assume that she and ministers have created an expectation they should get information like that.

This on it’s own is an important issue.

But, especially with Peters on the warpath, there are possible serious repercussions in the short term.

What Tolley did with the information is not yet clear, nor how far up the chain it went and whether National’s black ops guys are back in business.

But the very fact it was fed to the Beehive will cause suspicion by Peters that National leaked the information to discredit him.

It was obvious that some suspicion would fall on National. So if someone in National is responsible for the leak it would have been very stupid – stupid isn’t uncommon when politics gets dirty.

If National are found to be responsible, or even just widely perceived to have probably been involved, it could be very damaging for their election chances, and for their chances of negotiating a coalition with Winston Peters.

Other possibilities shouldn’t be ruled out. Because it was predictable that National would be implicated they could have been set up here.

I don’t think Winston has has embarrassed himself.

Who would do that? Who has been gunning for National and English for months?

Yesterday morning on Whale Oil Face of the Day:

But what you have here is one of Bill English’s failed hit jobs.  Leaked via Tolley, the NZ Herald has tried to make it stick.

Don’t you love election time?

Oh, and it’s not dirty politics if they don’t use blogs.

That’s an accusation yesterday that it was “leaked via Tolley”. Even if it was someone seems to have leaked that information to Whale Oil. They could just have easily leaked straight to Whale Oil.

And being unable to resist bragging Whale oil has more today: “The Herald can reveal” something Whaleoil published yesterday

It was leaked to “the media” days after it was “leaked to Whaleoil”.   We sat on it for the weekend, but first thing Monday morning, we wrote…

…what I have quoted above.

And as we know about the New Zealand Herald, first they will take the leak and make it a story and then they make the leaker a story.  Two stories for the price of one, especially when the first hit fails.  Winston ends up being the victim here instead of the villain.

God what a bunch of amateurs on the 9th floor.  Especially Eagleson.  You’d think he’d have learned a thing or two back in the day.   It seems not.

Now they are all running for cover and doing Sgt Shultz impressions.  And you know what I always say:  It’s not the original offence, it’s the cover-up that gets you.   

Anne Tolley will have been told she’ll be looked after if things get too bad.   You see, it’s never the likes of Eagleson or English that will go down for this.  Releasing private MSD information on a political opponent is a career ending move.  And Tolley was told to do it.

Whenever John Key phoned he always made sure that I was to know that if Wayne called me that he was for all intents and purposes the same as Key… He would say “When Wayne speaks he speaks for me”.

So now Tolley has been told to hang in there.  She’ll be ok.  Just  look how that worked out for Jason Ede and Todd Barclay.

She has this morning to throw Eagleson under the bus and save her career.   Doubt she will have the smarts to do it.

Bill English is causing a lot of stress inside National.  As I predicted he is effing up the unlosable election and loyalty becomes paper-thin once people feel their own jobs are on the line.

If I knew about this before the Herald did, just think about how unhappy the people around Bill must be.

Of course, I decided to sit on it for a bit.   No point helping Bill out.  He’s too busy working his way into opposition.  Attacking Winston Peters like this has all but assured a Labour/NZ First government.

And I say this without a trace of smugness or satisfaction:  you all didn’t believe me.  You thought it was personal.  I told you Bill English is exactly what you are seeing now.  He was the wrong man for the job.   And I will not vote for National while he is in charge of it.   The man is not capable of being a party leader.

His real problem is that he’s lost the confidence of his team.  I knew days before the Herald knew.  And the Herald was leaked to as well.   These are the hallmarks of a power structure crumbling and falling to dust.

Whale Oil claims it was leaked to them first and they did nothing with it. That seems out of character going by past attention seeking.

They could be right, they could have been informed before anyone else, did nothing about it and waited to let it all turn to custard, then claim bragging rights afterwards.

If so then National deserves to be dumped in disgrace.

But at this stage I would prefer to keep an open mind on who is responsible.

What is most credible?

That National would blatantly abuse privacy in a political hit job knowing the spotlight would be on them, and knowing there was a huge political risk?

Or that Whale Oil would bring down the Government they have openly been trying to undermine and destroy for years – pretty much since National cut Cameron Slater loose after Dirty Politics broke during the last election campaign.

Slater has been noticeably out of the political loop for a long time, but suddenly he claims to know everything that has happened and everyone responsible.

That flashes some warning lights to me. he has a habit of throwing around incriminating and false claims.

There’s certainly dirty politics going on here. What’s not so clear is who is actually responsible.

There is a lot to clear up here. One that could do with clarification – Tolley is MSD. Peters claims that the leak came from IRD.

Turei versus Tolley on benefit fraud

Metiria Turei continues to attract much of the media attention on her stand on benefit fraud.

Stuff:  Greens co-leader Metiria Turei won’t report woman committing benefit fraud

On Tuesday Turei confirmed she had met with a woman while travelling in the South Island last week who told her about a flatmate with a baby “who is doing exactly what I did”.

“She’s trying very hard to be the best Mum she can be but she isn’t telling WINZ about all her flatmates and I won’t condemn her.”

Turei was completely against the idea of dobbing her in to the authorities and said her job now was to “make sure nobody needs to make those choices”.

“I’ve had people come and disclose to me their circumstances and I’ll never abuse that trust.

What I will do is fix the system so they never have to lie again.”

I think that an MP is obliged to keep conversations with constituents confidential. What is different here is Turei choosing to talk about something like this publicly, using constituent confessions to promote her agenda.

But Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said members of parliament had “certain obligations” and while there’s laws people don’t agree with it doesn’t mean people “shouldn’t abide by those laws”.

“My advice to anyone struggling is to go and talk to their case manager, because sometimes there’s stuff that can be done, so that’s the advice I hope Metiria, or any member of parliament, is giving to someone who is really struggling,” she said.

There’s no doubt that Turei means well, but she is on potentially shaky ground if she approves of instances of benefit fraud.

Turei has proposed WINZ operate an “amnesty” for people who have broken the law so they can approach a case manager and not be judged.

An amnesty for any law breaking no matter how serious? Writing off all past instances of fraud? This is tricky territory, especially for an MP.

In Question Time in Parliament today:

9. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she believe that the Ministry of Social Development has a responsibility to treat unemployed people, sole parents, and people with disabilities with respect and dignity, and ensure every person on a benefit has all the support they are entitled to?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): I believe that the ministry should treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of whether they are on a benefit or not.

Metiria Turei: Does she think that her ministry lives up to this standard, given the hundreds of examples made public this week describing denigrating and obstructive responses by Work and Income deliberately denying people their entitlements?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have travelled all over New Zealand and have been into Work and Income offices and talked with staff. I have never met anyone yet who is not absolutely passionate about helping people get back on their feet, get into work, and live successful lives.

Metiria Turei: Given that a recent study into grandparents seeking financial support has found that “the service standards published by Work and Income are continually breached, not displayed in offices and are not subject to a complaints procedure, …” will she commit to changing the punitive culture in Work and Income so that it focuses on giving people the help when they need it?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The benefit that the member is referring to is the unsupported orphans benefit. I think that is the name of it. There are procedures that do take a long time to process—determining whether or not a child is in the full care of a grandparent. I have met with Grandparents Raising Grandchildren on a number of occasions. What I can say to the member is that this issue in particular is being addressed through the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, which focuses on the needs of the child and, therefore, will enable much better support, I believe, to be wrapped around any people who are taking care of those children and in particular, grandparents.

Sarah Dowie: What recent actions has the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) taken to ensure people do receive the support they are entitled to?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We have been working our way through a number of issues to ensure that the practice aligns with the legislation and that people do receive their full entitlements. For example, one issue that was identified was a coding error that meant some clients were being paid the accommodation supplement at the wrong rate. When this was discovered, MSD took the appropriate action to reimburse 22,000 current clients at around $14 million and undertook to identify previous clients who may have been underpaid. MSD is absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support that they are entitled to.

Metiria Turei: When Work and Income tells 85 percent of grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren that they are not entitled to benefits that they should in fact be receiving, will she instruct Work and Income to review every case to ensure every single person on a benefit is receiving their full entitlement?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am not aware of where that figure comes from. If it comes from a survey that was done recently, then I would question the assertion that that relates to all grandparents. As I have said, there is a process by which Work and Income has to be satisfied that the grandparent now has the full care of and responsibility for the child, and that does cause, from time to time, some lengthy delays. As I say, this has been raised with me on a number of occasions by the organisation representing those grandparents, and we are addressing it as best as we are able to.

Metiria Turei: When so many stories of people being driven into poverty and despair by the broken welfare system have emerged in this last week, will she instruct the MSD to hold an amnesty for every current beneficiary—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Now we get to it.

Metiria Turei: —for every current beneficiary, so not me, Minister—so that they can talk to Work and Income about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member complete her question. It is a very long question.

Metiria Turei:—so that they can talk to Work and Income about their full entitlement without risking investigation or financial punishment?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: First of all, I reject the assumption that the social welfare system that this country so proudly has is broken. In fact, on the contrary, I would say the results—that people are working very hard throughout New Zealand—have shown a record number of people coming off reliance on a benefit and into work. Sixty thousand children in New Zealand now no longer live in houses dependant on a benefit, and I think that is a huge success for this country and a huge success for the people who are now living totally independent lives, able to support themselves and their families.

Metiria Turei: Why will the Minister not hold an amnesty for current beneficiaries when she cannot guarantee that every parent on a benefit has enough money to feed their kids and pay their power bills this winter without having to ask for extra assistance?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think the member forgets that this Government was the first Government in over 40 years to raise the amount of money paid to beneficiaries—the first Government in 40 years. There is no doubt that it is difficult to manage on a benefit, but that is why the staff at Work and Income work so hard with families to help them into sustainable employment, because the best way out of poverty is to be self-reliant, to be independent, and to be able to be working in New Zealand supporting their own families.

Metiria Turei: How many beneficiaries are currently homeless?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I suggest the member puts that down in a written question.

Metiria Turei: Given the Minister does not know how many current beneficiaries are homeless, how can she agree with the use of financial sanctions to threaten the poorest people in New Zealand with worsened poverty?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Sanctions are only ever applied after several warnings, and are only applied when people do not comply with their obligations. Some of those obligations are very simple—turning up for an appointment. If there is a good reason, the sanction is not applied. It is very easy for people to re-comply, but there has to be some accountability when you are abusing spending taxpayers’ money.

Metiria Turei: Why does the Minister believe that it is OK for the Government to use poverty as a weapon against solo mums and their children, disabled people, and homeless people who have already lost everything?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I completely refute the assertions of that member.

Metiria Turei: How many people on a benefit have committed suicide in the last 5 years?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not believe that the MSD has ever collected those sorts of statistics.


Turei is on a roll. She also had this oped published: Children shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ choices

I also revealed that as a single mother and law student in the 1990s, I lied to Work and Income about how many flatmates I had.

Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve revealed on social media, and who’ve told me in person, that my story was theirs too, or their mother’s, or someone else they know. It’s been unexpected, and very powerful.

Section 70A requires single parents to name the father of their child, or risk losing their benefit.

This particular sanction is currently being handed down to 14,000 single parents, almost all of whom are mums. They are having up to $28 per week per child taken off them. The victims of this punitive and nasty law are the more than 17,000 kids who are then being deprived of that money – money that could be spent on food, or school books, or for paying the power bill so they can keep the heater on in their bedroom this winter.

Why anyone believes that children should be punished for their parents’ choices is beyond me. And why is taking money from a mother and her kids the only option if the state wants to track down the father? The Government is essentially holding kids’ welfare to ransom.

I have no doubt that some women, mostly women, are put in very difficult situations. Cutting benefits for non-compliance is tough on some.

But a much higher benefit with a no questions, no responsibility approach is fraught with unintended and predictable consequences.

A comfortable house and a comfortable income for everyone is a great ideal, but if it results in too many people choosing not to work because there’s no need then our society could end up in a serious situation.