Peters suffered breach of privacy but failed to identify who was responsible

The High Court (Venning J) has released a decision that found that Winston Peters had his privacy breached, but in court proceedings he failed to identify who was responsible, despite accusing a number of MPs and public servants. Therefore his claims for damages and declarations have been dismissed

There has also been a substantial cost to the taxpayers who paid for the defendants, but Peters may now have to pay costs (decision reserved).

Plaintiff: Winston Peters

First Defendant: Paula Bennett
Second Defendant: Peter Hughes (State Services Commissioner)
Third Defendant: Anne Tolley
Fourth Defendant: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL sued on behalf of the MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Fifth Defendant: Brendan Boyle (chief executive of the MSD)

Introduction: 

[1] The Right Honourable Winston Peters claims the defendants have breached his privacy.

[2] In April 2010, Mr Peters applied for and was granted New Zealand Superannuation (NZS) by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). Mr Peters was paid NZS at the single rate. In May 2017, Mr Peters’ partner, Ms Trotman, applied for NZS. In the course of processing her application, MSD reviewed Mr Peters’ file. The review raised the question of why he was being paid NZS at the single rate when he had a partner. An MSD officer met with Mr Peters in July 2017. It was agreed Mr Peters had been overpaid NZS as he was not single and had a partner, Ms Trotman, at the time he was granted NZS. Mr Peters immediately arranged for the overpayment to be repaid.

[3] In the meantime, in June 2017, Mr Boyle, the chief executive of the MSD, had disclosed the overpayment and the MSD investigation into it (the payment irregularity) to the State Services Commission (SSC).

[4] On 31 July 2017, Mr Boyle also briefed Ms Tolley, the Minister of Social Welfare at the time, about the payment irregularity. On 1 August 2017, Mr Hughes, the State Services Commissioner, briefed Ms Bennett, the Minister for State Services at the time.

[5] An unknown source disclosed the payment irregularity to the media by anonymous calls to reporters between 23 and 25 August 2017. On one occasion the source alleged Mr Peters had lied when applying for NZS.

[6] On 26 August 2017, Lloyd Burr, a journalist approached Mr Peters. Mr Burr made it clear he had knowledge of the payment irregularity. To mitigate the damage to him personally and politically, particularly in the context of a general election due to be held on 23 September 2017, Mr Peters issued a press statement the next day. Over the next weeks and even months, a number of news items followed in which the payment irregularity and Mr Peters’ situation were discussed further.

The claim

[7] Mr Peters says that the public disclosure of the payment irregularity was a breach of his right to privacy. He says the defendants had a duty to keep the details of the payment irregularity confidential. In disclosing the payment irregularity to others Mr Peters says the defendants breached that duty.3 He seeks declaratory relief and damages.

Some points of interest.

[24] While Ms S should have picked up that question 26 had not been properly or adequately answered and the form was incomplete, Mr Peters must also bear some responsibility for the resultant ambiguity in the form as completed and the consequent issues that arose. To the left-hand side of question 26 is the definition of partner. If Mr Peters had read that definition, it would have been clear, given that Ms Trotman was his partner, that he should have completed the primary question in question 26 and answered it by ticking “Yes”.

[30] There was one further relevant event that occurred before Ms Trotman made her application for superannuation in May 2017. On 18 March 2014, the MSD sent a standard letter to Mr Peters which included a request that asked him to check the following details:

Relationship Status: You are single.
Your living situation: You are not living alone.

[31] Mr Peters did not respond to the letter. He has no recollection of it but accepts he would have received it. He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances. He took the view that there had been no change in his circumstances since the 2010 interview. While Mr Peters’ details had not changed, the letter expressly set out that the MSD’s records of Mr Peters’ relationship status was that he was single. That was incorrect. If Mr Peters had paid more attention to the letter, he would have realised there was an issue with the MSD’s records regarding his initial application.

There seems to be a contradiction here. “He has no recollection of it” but “He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances. He took the view that there had been no change in his circumstances since the 2010 interview.”

I don’t now he could have taken an understanding from a letter and taken a view on a letter he had no recollection of. This sounds odd to me.

[75] With respect to Mr Soper, his evidence that, in his opinion, the information was deliberately leaked as an attempt by Mr Peters’ political opponents to damage his credibility and to do what the Prime Minister wanted, which was “to cut out the middleman”, namely NZ First, is speculative. It is not the opinion of an expert based on established fact. Without direct evidence of the original source of the disclosure, Mr Soper’s opinion is speculative. Mr Soper’s opinion that it must have been a political opponent (and inferentially) someone from the National Party or a National Party supporter lacks a proven factual basis. It does not satisfy the requirement for admissibility as expert opinion evidence. Even if it was generally correct that the disclosure was politically motivated, it may not have been disclosed, for example, by a National Party member or supporter. It could also have been disclosed by a Green Party supporter aggrieved at the public backlash against Ms Turei following her disclosure of fraud.

[76] None of the journalists, including Mr Soper, were prepared to disclose their sources. They invoked the protection of s 68(1) Evidence Act. I was not asked to make an order under s 68(2) and was not in any event, provided with evidence to satisfy me that the criteria in that subsection were satisfied.

[108] Mr Peter’s reasonable expectation that the payment irregularity would be kept private must be contextual. It is not absolute. It must take into account that there are some parties who it was necessary or appropriate to disclose the information to. As noted, that includes a number of people within the MSD involved directly in the review and investigation. It also extends to disclosure to the chief executive of the MSD and from him to the chief executive of the SSC as Mr Henry conceded in opening.

[117] In summary, on the first point, I accept that Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it, and certainly had a reasonable expectation that the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

[125] In summary, I remain of the view that it would be highly offensive to deliberately disclose details of the payment irregularity to the media.

[141] Mr Peters seeks to overcome his evidential difficulty in identifying who disclosed his private information concerning the payment irregularity to members of the media on 23 and 25 August 2017 by reliance on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

[143] Res ipsa loquitur, literally “the facts speak for themselves”, is a rule of evidence. Res ipsa loquitur generally arises in the context of negligence but is not restricted to that. In the Canadian case of Royal Bank of Canada v Boussoulas, for example, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice accepted it could apply to fraud where fraud was the only consistent explanation for the facts proven.

[148] There are a number of possible explanations as to how the details of the payment irregularity were disclosed to the media. While it is possible the disclosure was politically motivated, it could have been made by members of either of the other major parties, (at that time neither of them knew who Mr Peters and NZ First might support) or even a disaffected NZ First supporter disappointed in a perceived failing by Mr Peters. Further, a supporter of the Green Party or of Ms Turei who considered she had been treated harshly by the media could have been the source of disclosure to the media.

[149] That is the fundamental difficulty for Mr Peters’ reliance on res ipsa loquitur. The doctrine is not applicable where the plaintiff cannot identify the defendant…

[153] In summary, there are a number of elements to Mr Peters’ claim against Ms Bennett and Ms Tolley but they come down to the following key points. First, that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private. For the reasons given above, I accept that has been established to the extent that he had a reasonable expectation it would only be disclosed to those persons who had a proper interest or genuine need to know. I also accept that public disclosure would be considered highly offensive by a reasonable objective person. Again, for the reasons above, I agree that disclosure of the payment irregularity to the media with the intention it be made publicly available would be considered offensive to a reasonable objective person.

[154] Mr Peters’ pleaded case against the first and third defendants is based on the reasoning that the first and third defendants were members of a political party opposed to Mr Peters so that the information must have been leaked by them to persons who disclosed it to the media. But Mr Henry did not pursue that case directly in closing submission. He cannot rely on res ipsa loquitur to make it out.

So Peters failed in his accusations against Bennett and Tolley – he had no evidence they were responsible for the leak.

[168] The declaratory relief sought is based on the same pleaded facts as the claim for damages. With the exception of Ms Tolley’s unguarded comment to her sister, the disclosures made by the first and third defendants were either made for proper purposes or to persons who had a genuine need to know about the payment irregularity. Ms Tolley was not challenged on her evidence regarding her reason for discussing the matter with her husband and, given the brief and very general nature of the comment made to her sister, I decline to make any such declaration.

[169] The plaintiff’s claim against the first and third defendants on the first and fourth causes of action fails.

[176] I accept Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that details of the payment irregularity would be kept private, to the extent that it would not be disclosed except for a proper purpose or to parties who did not have a genuine need to know and that it would not be disclosed to the media. But that does not support Mr Peters’ claim that the MSD and Mr Boyle should have kept it private if that is to be taken to mean to not disclose it at all…

[181] Mr Peter’s cannot identify the source of the leak to the media. He cannot say whether it originated from an MSD team member or one of the persons who later obtained the information through the Ministers’ offices. He is left with his reliance on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in his case against the fourth defendant, sued on behalf of the MSD. But for the reasons expressed above, the doctrine does not assist the plaintiff…

[231] Sir Maarten confirmed that, contrary to Mr Peters’ suggestion, in his experience, whether it was appropriate to brief a Minister did not depend on the Department requiring the assistance of the Minister or of Cabinet. Sir Maarten had not heard of or applied the criteria Mr Peters referred to. I note they are not referred to in the Cabinet Manual. As Ms Casey submitted, the process Mr Peters suggested was not a convention. None of the other Crown witnesses were aware of its application. Neither of the Ministers at the time were familiar with it. I accept the defence evidence on that point.

Peters was wrong about convention of briefing Ministers.

[236] In summary, for the above reasons and in the particular circumstances of this case, Mr Peter’s general allegations against the fourth defendant sued on behalf of the MSD cannot succeed as the plaintiff cannot rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to overcome his inability to prove that the source of the leak was a MSD member. I also accept that the second and fifth defendants were justified in disclosing the payment irregularity and Mr Peters’ identity to the Ministers when they briefed them on the ‘no surprises’ basis. In the particular circumstances of this case, the Ministers had a proper interest in knowing Mr Peters had been overpaid NZS, that the MSD had investigated it and that he had been treated the same as any other person would be in the circumstances. The plaintiff’s claim under the first cause of action against the Crown defendants fails.

[245] The allegation that the disclosure had no purpose but to disclose the payment irregularity to a political opponent is also not made out. The evidence is clear the disclosure within the MSD and to Mr Boyle, and by Mr Boyle to Mr Hughes, and then to the Ministers was not for that purpose. Further, there is the point Sir Maarten made that it would be quite improper for a chief executive to attempt to filter information to a minister out of a concern how the minister might use it.

[250] For the reasons given above, the disclosure by Mr Hughes to his Minister was for a proper purpose and to a party who had a genuine interest in receiving it. It cannot be said the disclosure was highly offensive as it was a communication made in confidence to a Minister to whom Mr Hughes was responsible to, and the content was factual and objective.

[274] Mr Soper explained his answer on the basis that he was not saying it was not serious. Politically it was very serious, but what he was saying is that the oversight in payment was not that serious as the money had been repaid. Later in the same interview when asked “Where to from now, how politically damaging could this be?” Mr Soper answered “I don’t think politically damaging at all”. Again, Mr Soper sought to qualify that answer by noting that that statement had been made the day after Mr Peters’ statement and the firestorm had not actually begun at that stage.

[275] Mr Peter’s private information about the payment irregularity should not have been disclosed to the media. The deliberate disclosure of that private information to the media sources caused Mr Peters harm and distress, but ultimately it was mitigated by the actions he took. In the circumstances, if Mr Peters could have identified who disclosed his private information to the media then damages in the region of $75,000 to $100,000 in total might have been appropriate. This was a deliberate breach of his privacy with the intention of publicly embarrassing him and causing him harm.

So an award of damages might have been appropriate if Peters had identified who leaked his information to media.

Summary/result

276] Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private and not disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it. In particular, he had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

[277] The deliberate disclosure of the details of the payment irregularity to the media would be regarded as highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[278] Mr Peter’s claim against all defendants fails as he is not able to establish that they were responsible for the disclosure of the payment irregularity to the media. He has conceded that neither Ms Bennett nor Ms Tolley were directly responsible for the disclosure to the media. Further, with the exception of the very general, unguarded
comment by Ms Tolley to her sister, the disclosures by the first and third defendants were for a proper purpose or otherwise to persons with a genuine interest in knowing.

[279] The disclosure by the fifth defendant to the SSC and by both the second and fifth defendants to their Ministers were, in the particular circumstances of this case, for a proper purpose and the Ministers had a genuine interest in knowing the details of the payment irregularity.

[280] The plaintiff is unable to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in this case to make out a claim against any of the defendants, including the fourth defendant.

[281] The plaintiff’s claims for damages and declarations are dismissed.

Costs are yet to be decided, but they usually go against the unsuccessful party in legal proceedings, so I presume that Peters may be liable for costs. If so that will cover some of what taxpayers provided to the defendants.

Peters was justified in complaining about his privacy being breached, but failed to identify the leaker. Instead he accused a number of people, but failed, and that is likely to come at a significant cost to him.

In my opinion this is an example of Peters making accusations against political opponents, sometimes claiming to have evidence or implying he has evidence, but failing to come up with evidence.

His reputation was damaged by disclosure of his Super overpayment, but I believe he has also damaged his own reputation.

The question remains as to why Peters made an incorrect claim on his Super application and failed to notice when he started receiving payments and for the next for seven years that he was being paid more than he was entitled to.

Full judgment: Peters v Bennett [2020] NZHC 761 (20 April 2020)


Newsroom 13 November 2019: Winston Peters accepts National ministers didn’t leak

RNZ today: Paula Bennett welcomes Winston Peters’ privacy court case failure (includes ausio)

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett says her name has been cleared by the courts after – what she calls – a fishing expedition by Winston Peters for his own political purposes.

Peters claimed the leak was for political purposes and targeted Bennett and Tolley, but Bennett has now responded saying Peters took her to court for political purposes.

The proceeding was initially filed in court just before NZ First went into negotiations with National (Bennett was involved) to supposedly try to form a coalition.

 

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.