Peters in court versus Government departments and National MPs next week

Winston Peters is expected to be in court or up to three weeks beginning on Monday when his case against the Attorney-General (on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development), the ministry’s chief executive, the State Services Commissioner and former ministers and national MPs Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett.

This is over an alleged leak of details of an overpayment to Peters of Superannuation from 2010 until 2017. He received a single person’s Super but was living in a relationship.

Peters actually outed himself after journalists were given the information and started asking questions.

I’m not sure how everyone taken to court by Peters can have leaked the information.

There are a number of bizarre aspects to all this.

Newsroom:  Peters’ day job on hold as he sues the Crown

Winston Peters will take time off his day job as Acting Prime Minister next week when his high-stakes court action begins against the head of the public service, a top mandarin, a government agency and two former National ministers.

His case alleging a breach of his privacy in the leaking in 2017 of his seven-year national superannuation overpayment starts in the High Court at Auckland on Monday.

Peters’ case has moved from an initial focus against the two National politicians for leaking the details of his overpayment, to now claiming the government departments and officials breached his privacy in advising the ministers. Further, he has accused the officials of being reckless and acting in bad faith, and the Crown is defending that allegation with vigour.

This seems to have been a fishing expedition with Peters trying too discover who leaked the information. As information was provided he seems too have changed his targets.

Newsroom and Newshub were two media organisations that received anonymous calls alerting them to the overpayment and were initially subject to Peters’ legal demand to reveal phone, electronic communication records and any journalistic notes. The demand was refused and Peters abandoned that action.

Peters should have known that journalists are able to protect the identity of sources. He seemed to think he could legally bully them into revealing who provided the information.

The Deputy PM wants $450,000 in damages from each of the named defendants, meaning a total of $1.8 million if he pursues all of those monetary claims listed in early court documents.

That’s a lot being claimed. I have no idea what his chances are of getting anything like that amount. This is an unusual case so there are unlikely to be similar precedents.

Any damages awarded would be covered by the taxpayer under an arrangement authorised by the Cabinet. Taxpayers are also paying for the two Queens Counsel and legal teams.

Regardless of whether damages will be awarded this is an expensive exercise. Peters is at risk of it backfiring.

Peters has implied publicly that MSD made the error in which he was recorded on that application as single rather than in the de facto relationship with Jan Trotman that he was in at the time. Court documents show that in ‘interrogatories’ – or questions asked by the Crown in advance of the hearing – Peters acknowledged he could have received a letter in 2014 asking him to check the details on that 2010 application, but does not recall that and did not read it if it did arrive.

I doubt that not reading a letter is a solid defence for not being aware he was being overpaid.

It is odd that he received an overpayment for years without knowing it was more than he was eligible to receive.

Peters’ lawyers filed the first application in this case – featuring the various National Party figures named above – the day before the September 2017 election and he then proceeded to negotiate ‘in good faith’ with both National and Labour, before serving the papers on the National MPs and others after the Labour coalition was formed.

I suspect National knew that Peters was simply using them to push a better deal with Labour. It’s hard to see serious intent to negotiate a coalition agreement with National.

It was alleged recently that Peters had offered to drop the legal action if Paula Bennett retired from politics. That can’t be true – but if it was it sounds like a form of extortion.

In past election campaigns Peters has insisted he wouldn’t indicate which parties he would consider going into coalition with. It would be even more farcical if he tries that again next year.

Bennett and Tolley could be in the witness stand from Thursday, and can also expect to be cross-examined by Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry, a one-time advocate for the former Dirty Politics blogger Whaleoil, aka Cameron Slater.

Slater is now bankrupt, presumably owing Henry a some sort of amount for representing him (unsuccessfully) versus Matt Blomfield.

It had seemed odd that Peters’ lawyer represented Slater, and at the same time Slater promoted NZ First on Whale Oil. There is another connection there, Simon Lusk, who has used Slater and Whale Oil to promote political clients and attack opponents of clients, and is apparently now advising NZ First.

as previously indicated, this whole situation is has a number of bizarre aspects to it.



Turei’s speech

This is presumably the speech from Metiria Turei that Anne Tolley reacted to. There are some criticisms of John Key and National, but it doesn’t seem to have specifics that Tolley referred to.

It does make some extreme claims about National though.

Children just do not exist for John Key and for the National Party.

He said no and he sat down, because he will deliberately deny today’s children the same opportunities that he had as a child to escape poverty and to do well.

…John Key and the National Party, who say “No” to children…

While National will focus on rewarding a few individuals or, as in the tax cut—they cost $1 billion dollars—rewarding the very wealthy, the Green Party will invest in families and children and focus on the needs of many.

This is the stark choice.

There is nothing much different in Turei’s Sunday speech on Reclaiming our children’s birth right.

But that’s a challenge because a poor kid here is less likely to do well at school than a poor kid in almost any other developed country. We read last week about the high cost of a supposed “free education”. There is a lot to do to improve our system.

Meanwhile the National Government keeps making it worse.

No specifics about National or Anne Tolley being out of touch, maybe that came from somewhere else, but fairly extreme accusations about not caring about children.

I would be far less offended by someone criticising what I wore or where I lived (Dunedin often gets a lot of criticism) than whether I cared about children or not. But I’m not Maori or female.

Video of Turei’s Parliamentary speech:

Full Parliamentary speech transcript:


16:23:56~METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green)

METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker.

Where was the inspiration and the hope for our kids in the Prime Minister’s speech? Where was the compassion and the humanity for our kids in the Prime Minister’s speech? It said nothing about making life better for our children; nothing about them deserving a good life or having a fair future. Children just existed in that speech as outcomes and outputs and, even more horrifyingly, as targets.

Children just do not exist for John Key and for the National Party.

And if we would like another example of that, after that miserable speech from John Key, I think that we can see it in the answers that he gave to questions in the House today.

I note that John Key talked about how he was a child who grew up in poverty and how he was able to escape that poverty because of the support that he got from the State and the great, free public education that he received.

When I asked him whether he will guarantee that all of today’s children will have access to exactly those same services, to secure State housing, to a universal benefit—remember the family benefit—and to a free public education, he said no. He said no and he sat down, because he will deliberately deny today’s children the same opportunities that he had as a child to escape poverty and to do well.

That is John Key, the Prime Minister. That is the National Party.

That is the stark choice that New Zealanders have at this coming election: between John Key and the National Party, who say “No” to children, and the Green Party, which will put children at the heart of all of our policies and our political decisions.

That is how we began this year, with the launch of our school hubs plan to put children right at the heart of the education system and to put children right at the heart of the Green policy—to deliver directly to families and children on the needs and issues that they have.

While National will focus on rewarding a few individuals or, as in the tax cut—they cost $1 billion dollars—rewarding the very wealthy, the Green Party will invest in families and children and focus on the needs of many.

This is the stark choice.

I want to briefly describe the school hubs plan for members and those listening. We have proposed a number of services for all decile 1 to 4 schools that those schools will be eligible and entitled to as a matter of right.

The first is a school hubs coordinator. This is a person employed in that school—paid for not by the operations grant but by new funding—to take the burden of organising and facilitating social services away from the principals and the teachers who currently have it. And instead, the school hubs coordinator will engage with their school community on what the issues are that the school community faces and what the solutions are that that school community wants to put in place. That full-time person will have the job of going out and finding the services that meet the solutions that the community itself has decided are right for them.

There are lots of examples of this. There are many schools in the country that are providing free food in some way—they have got community gardens or they have got relationships with organisations that surround them—but it is the teachers who are having to do this work; it is the principals who are having to do this work. They cannot do that and concentrate on their core expertise, which is teaching our kids, educating our kids.

So if we provide this resource—it is a full-time person—to these schools, that person can take on that responsibility. What are the other services that that person can then bring into the school? Well, one very important one is free after-school care and holiday programmes for kids.

The expert advisory committee set up by the Children’s Commissioner was very clear that there are serious issues for poorer children who cannot access after-school activities, who cannot access holiday care.

For after-school activities, it is very important because these are the activities that can often best explore their talents—musical talents, sporting talents, creative talents. If poorer children cannot access those kinds of programmes because they cannot afford it, those talents are wasted. We have seen just this very week what happens when a child has access to what they need to explore their talents—what success is possible.

That success is an entitlement of every child in this country. Just by doing something as simple as opening up and making freely available after-school care activities to all children in low-decile schools, we can have many more of those kinds of success stories. Free holiday care for a maximum of 3 weeks is another proposal.

It is particularly important from an education point of view because it means that kids maintain their standard of education—their standard of reading, their standard of maths, their standard of engagement in the institutions—over the holiday period. The expert advisory group was very clear in saying that there is a slippage that happens over the school holidays, particularly for poorer kids. One of the best ways to prevent that slippage is to provide free holiday programmes for children in decile 1 to 4 schools.

The Green Party has heard that. We have heard the evidence. We agree, and we will provide it should we be in Government.

We have also talked about dedicated school nurses to decile 1 to decile 4 schools. There is no dedicated school nurse programme operating in this country. We surveyed low-decile schools in New Zealand, and we found that most low-decile schools get at best a little under 2 hours of nursing time each week. That is the average—2 hours of nursing time each week. Most of those schools complained that the nursing support that they got would often be called away.

National has a national programme for rheumatic fever, which is a good idea, but it takes away the school nurses. So schools can lose access to their nurse for a month, for 2 months. Some said they had not seen a nurse for 6 months.

We need dedicated school nurses in the schools so that families and children know they can access the health care that they need. So that we know that those children can get to a doctor because there are good quality referrals. So that a nurse can build trust with that family and deal with those continual complaints that every parent knows about, whether it is nits, scabies, school sores, skin infections, bronchitis, or asthma—all of those things that parents have to deal with daily. If they can find their health service and support—their nursing support—at the school, where the kids go every day, we know that those kids’ health will improve.

And if those kids’ health improves, their learning improves. That is why we put dedicated school nurses at the schools.

Finally, as part of the core service under our school hub is the school lunch fund. This is a national fund. It will average at about $3 a child per school, per week, and is based on the average number of children who we understand go to school without sufficient food. That is around 9 percent of the school population.

This fund will be available to the schools. They will automatically be entitled. They can use that fund to provide lunch to their students in any way that they see is best for them. This is the job of the school hub coordinator: what is the best way to provide lunch for their schools?

There are some great examples where schools have a community garden, and what they need is a little bit of money to support some volunteers, or maybe employ somebody part-time, to come in and gather that food, to help with the kids, and to cook the food with the kids, and for the kids then to share the food amongst their school community. It builds a sense of sharing, a sense of community within the school. It reduces inequality because all children can access the food if there is enough to go around.

And it means that our kids have a decent meal in the middle of the day so that they can learn for the rest of the afternoon. It improves their education.

The Green Party will put children at the heart of everything we do. We have shown that with our policies to date. We will continue to do so. This is why I believe that the country will choose the Greens to be part of a great progressive Government in 2014. Thank you.