Media hacks criticised for obsession with Treasury non-hack story

Is there no other political stuff worth reporting on? Or is the prospects of a high level resignation or sacking too attractive to let go of?

This all happened a week and half ago but the story is still prominent. However criticism of the story obsession  is starting to emerge. “It’s ridiculous that pundits are calling for heads to roll. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a big deal. ”

These sorts of stories continue:

Derek Cheng (NZH) – Jacinda Ardern: Finance Minister’s job is safe

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not saying when she found out about an urgent attempt from the Government Communications Security Bureau to stop Treasury boss Gabriel Makhlouf from saying his department had been hacked.

But Ardern said this morning that Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s job was safe.

The National Party is calling for senior ministers to come clean over when they knew about the GCSB’s concerns, and why Makhlouf’s “hacking” description – and Robertson’s subsequent “hacking” description – wasn’t corrected earlier, or stopped in the first place.

Derek Cheng (NZH) – Budget Bungle: the Govt was told there was no hacking but kept tight-lipped

The Government did not correct or clarify the description that the Treasury’s computer system had been “hacked” for an entire day despite being told by its cybersecurity experts that no hacking had taken place.

On the same day – Wednesday last week, the day before Budget day – the National Party also refused to reveal how it had obtained confidential Budget information, instead accusing the Treasury and Finance Minister Grant Robertson of unfairly smearing National.

Robertson said yesterday that the Government was being tight-lipped because the Treasury had called in the police, but he was also unlikely to want any further distractions on the eve of the Government’s much-hyped Wellbeing Budget.

Instead Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Robertson spent that Wednesday answering questions about hacking from National MPs in the House, while changing the language to say that the Treasury had been “attacked”.

National is demanding answers after the Herald revealed that Andrew Hampton, head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, made an urgent call to GCSB Minister Andrew Little in an attempt to stop Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf from publicly saying that his department had been hacked.

National deputy leader Paula Bennett said it was inconceivable that Little didn’t pass that information on to Robertson and Ardern straight away, and they should have immediately revealed the advice that there had been no hacking.

“If Mr Robertson received the information from Andrew Little after he released his statement, he should have immediately corrected it,” Bennett said.

Zane Small (Newshub) – Budget 2019 scandal: Beehive allegedly warned Treasury wasn’t hacked

But others are seeing things differently.

Alexander Stronach (The Spinoff) – Where you’re getting the Treasury budget data breach story all wrong

The Treasury data breach has been a shitshow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger disconnect between the experts and the pundits, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m not a security guy, for what it’s worth: I’m a writer at a tech firm, but I’m fascinated by security and over the last few days I’ve been talking to people who actually know their stuff. Almost unanimously they’re calling this a breach. Almost unanimously, the pundits are off shouting that it’s “not a hack!”.

Right from the start, I’m setting a rule: we’re not going to talk about “hacking”. It means totally different things to the IT sector (anything from coding at all to randomly kludged spaghetti code that really shouldn’t work) and the public (a man in a trenchcoat saying “I’m in!”), and most InfoSec types shy away from it anyway. I’m not going to bore you with the whole hacking vs cracking debate, but we’re going to call this thing what it is: a data breach.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s bad. Somebody dropped the ball, and somebody else put a knife into it.

Still, I don’t believe Simon Bridges has committed a crime, nor has he committed breach of confidence. He has violated his CERT obligations, which at worst means he’ll get a strongly-worded nonbinding letter from MBIE telling him not to do it again. He did a bad thing, but not all bad things result in him being removed from parliament in a paddy wagon. To quote one of my anonymous sources: “he’s an asshole, not a criminal.”

It’s ridiculous that pundits are calling for heads to roll. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a big deal. Grant Robertson shrugged and moved on. The Treasury were right: what harm could somebody actually do by using that exploit? Release a half-complete version of the document a day early?

By the by, it’s not dodgy or extreme that anybody called it a ‘hack’. If there’s a problem with the word, it’s not that it doesn’t mean this, it’s that it does mean this because it’s a vague word that means wildly different things to different people.

What’s really happening is that the pundits smell blood in the water, and they don’t care what actually happened—they just want an excuse to sink their teeth in.

Same old #NZPol, I guess.

Richard Griffi (Stuff) – Blown Budget secrets shine light on overblown reactions

It is not difficult to understand the ministerial angst and aggravation generated by the political theatre that disrupted last week’s Budget announcement.

Understandably, the authors and interpreters of the ‘Budget Secret’ production still revel in the drama despite the overall predictability of the political imperatives.

A nightmare for the Treasury benches is an invasion of the stage by the clowns from the back row of the auditorium waving the script and stealing the lines, leaving the man in the top hat puce with anger. But, so it was for Grant Robertson.

Enter, stage-right, an over-excited Simon Bridges supported by loyal side-kick Paula Bennett. They proceeded to blow whistles, point fingers and range through a range of emotions from triumphant to outraged and back again.

From a distance it did all seem a tad over the top but maybe you had to be there.

The usually pragmatic Robertson rose to the bait. He over-reacted while bit players ran in circles claiming the sky was falling.

It may be naive suggestion but surely a flexible, relatively young nation can do better than blindly follow the tenets of political behaviour originally constructed by a different Parliament on the other side of the world by politicians representing a very different constituency in very different circumstances.

Does the Opposition always have to find everything the Government puts in place the work of the Devil, and does the Government leadership always have to dismiss everything the Opposition does as trivial and without consequence?

And am I really asking myself this question?

He shouldn’t have to ask it. The Government and the Opposition should be asking themselves whether they are acting like representatives and leaders.

 

 

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

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

But who is playing dirty here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has previously said Mr Makhlouf should resign.

Mr Makhlouf says he acted in good faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second inquiry by State Services over budget leak

The State Services Commission has announced they investigate statements made and actions taken by the Secretary to the Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf following the leak of budget data two days before budget day last week.

This is in addition to an inquiry into the leak itself, announced last week.

Makhlouf seems to have handled things poorly, and the Government was messy with their handling as well.

But two inquiries as a result of the National Opposition ferreting for something so they could grandstand and embarrass the Government.

What has been achieved overall? More self inflicted discrediting of Parliament and politics in general. I don’t see anything positive from all of this.

There is no benefit to the public.

Last week:  Inquiry into unauthorised access to Budget material

The State Services Commission will undertake an inquiry into how Budget material was accessed at the Treasury.

The Secretary to the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, asked the Commissioner to inquire into the adequacy of Treasury policies, systems and processes for managing Budget security.

“Unauthorised access to confidential budget material is a very serious matter,” said State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.

“Mr Makhlouf has asked me to investigate and I am considering my options. This is a matter of considerable public interest and I will have more to say as soon as I am in a position do so.”

While there is no evidence of a system-wide issue, Mr Hughes has asked Andrew Hampton, the Government Chief Information Security Officer, to work with the Government Chief Digital Officer, Paul James, to provide assurance that information security across the Public Service is sound.

“This is an important issue because it goes to trust and confidence in the Public Service and in the security of government information,” said Mr Hughes.

“The inquiry will seek to understand exactly what has happened so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Today:  Investigation into statements made and actions taken by the Secretary to the Treasury

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has today announced an investigation into recent questions raised concerning the Chief Executive and Secretary to the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, and his actions and public statements about the causes of the unauthorised access to Budget material. 

The investigation will establish the facts in relation to Mr Makhlouf’s public statements about the causes of the unauthorised access; the advice he provided to his Minister at the time; his basis for making those statements and providing that advice; and the decision to refer the matter to the Police.

Mr Hughes said the questions that have been raised are a matter of considerable public interest and should be addressed.

“It’s my job to get to the bottom of this and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Mr Hughes.

Mr Hughes has asked Deputy State Services Commissioner, Mr John Ombler QSO, to lead the investigation. It will be done as quickly as practicable and the findings, and the Commissioner’s view of them, will be made public.

“Mr Makhlouf believes that at all times he acted in good faith,” said Mr Hughes. “Nonetheless, he and I agree that it is in everyone’s interests that the facts are established before he leaves his role on 27 June if possible. Mr Makhlouf is happy to cooperate fully to achieve that. I ask people to step back and let this process be completed.”

Neither Mr Hughes or Mr Makhlouf will be making any public comment until the investigation is finished. Mr Makhlouf will be working as usual during this period.

The investigation announced today is separate to the inquiry announced last week into the unauthorised access of Budget information. The Terms of Reference and who will lead this inquiry, which is expected to take some months, will be announced shortly.

What about an inquiry into why politicians waste so much time (and public service time) doing negative crap that has no real benefit to the country?

Grant Robertson on Newshub Nation

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was interviewed on Newshub Nation yesterday.

First, the sideshow.

imon Shepherd: It’s the highlight of the political year, for the government and one man in particular, the Finance Minister. I asked Finance Minister Grant Roberson if he was disappointed that the unauthorised early release of budget details overshadowed his first wellbeing budget. 
Robertson: I don’t think that it did. The reaction that we’re getting from New Zealanders to the budget is that they’re really pleased that we’re focused on a big, long-term issue like mental health. I don’t think New Zealanders are focused on the political games in Wellington.
But there were so many of them. There was the leak of the documentation, the allegations of a hack — you sort of seemingly linking the National Party to that, and then it wasn’t a hack. It was shambolic.
Look, I’ve expressed my disappointment in the fact that the Treasury system could be infiltrated this way and also that the Treasury didn’t do more to find out what had happened before they referred it to the police. The reality is that that’s now in the hands of the State Services Commissioner, who is doing an inquiry, and we’ll await the outcomes of that.
Well, how do you think you handled it all?
Look, I invite you to put yourself in my shoes. On Tuesday night the Chief Executive of the Treasury arrived in my office and said about an hour ago I have referred to the police 2000, of what he called, hacks into the system. I said to him, ‘Do you know how that’s happened?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I said, ‘Do you know if any other areas of the Treasury system have been compromised?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.’ So at that point, I’m going to take that matter pretty seriously. That’s what we did. Obviously more information has now come to light. That’s what the inquiry will cover.
Do you think you acted too quickly? Do you think you should’ve waited and got some more information before you put out that press release just then, which seemed to indicate that National was linked to the allegations of a hack?
Like I say, I think most people in my shoes, having received the information I did, would react and say, ‘Well, we need to make sure, regardless of how the National Party might’ve got the information, that they were aware of what the Treasury had advised me. We all now know that the situation is somewhat different. The inquiry will look into how that happened.

Then the meat of the topic.

You named it the Wellbeing Budget, but mental health aside, what is actually transformational about it?
I think the work that we’re doing in domestic and sexual violence is absolutely transformational. We’re talking there about breaking a cycle that has bedeviled New Zealand for many years. $320 million going into that. We’re going to transform the lives of people who are on benefits by indexing that to the average wage. That’s going to lift their incomes consistently.
Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. Obviously the Welfare Expert Advisory Group said 12-47 per cent boost to benefits is needed, something like $5 billion. You didn’t go near that. You’ve done $300 million. Why not?
Well, because we’re doing this in phases. And we’ve actually done three things —we’ve done, not only the indexation of benefits, but we’ve also lifted the abatement rate — the rate at which your income drops if you’re working while you’re on a benefit. And we’ve got rid of the sanction that was on mothers who didn’t identify the fathers of their children. That’s stage one. We absolutely acknowledge that there’s further work to do in this area.
Do you think that you missed a chance to be transformational by not implementing a capital gains tax?
Well, as you well know, I would’ve like to have implemented a capital gains tax. That, of course, would not have come into force until after the election. That was always the plan, but the realities of coalition government are we didn’t have the numbers for that.
What about a greater focus on business? If you lift them and provide incentives for business, that changes the whole economy, doesn’t it? So why didn’t you do that?
Well, we are. There’s a great deal of focus on supporting business. One of the things I’m really excited about in this budget is the $300 million fund for venture investment in those businesses that have got past the start-up phase and are looking to grow to be international companies, and Peter Beck from Rocket Lab has raised this issue with us and said, ‘Too many of these companies head offshore because there isn’t investment here.’ The government’s now got $300 million of skin in the game.
But I would say to you, that this country is made up — the backbone — is small to medium enterprises, and the businesses you’re talking about there are start-ups that want to go internationally. You’re not addressing the small to medium enterprises.
Well, I’d argue we are. The biggest issue raised with me by business is skilled staff, infrastructure, making sure we get those trade agreements going so people can export. They are the issues we are working on.
Could you have been more transformational if you’d relaxed your debt rules earlier? Is there a chance you could look back at this and say, ‘I wish I hadn’t played it so safe’?
It’s always about a balance. We have to make sure that we do keep our debt under control. We’re a small country. We’re susceptible to significant economic shocks and natural disasters. We are actually borrowing more money in this Budget. The economy is growing as well. That means the percentage of GDP stays steady, but we are borrowing to invest in those areas like infrastructure, building up KiwiRail, building more schools and hospitals. But it is all about a balance, and I think we’ve got it right.
Well, what about the balance — you’ve just mentioned shocks like natural disasters or international shocks. You are actually borrowing more. You are running down the projected surpluses. Are you leaving us vulnerable to something like that?
No, I don’t believe so. I mean, we still have a surplus of $1.3 billion here. We still have debt at a relatively low level. We are creating that balance, but we made a decision in this Budget to spend more than we had originally allocated, and that’s because the need was there. The need was there in infrastructure, but the need was also there in services like mental health. We always said, Simon, is that a sustainable surplus would be one where we’d met the needs that were there, so therefore this Budget that surplus is a bit lower, but it still exists.
Are you meeting the health needs though? Because National’s Amy Adams points out that policies for midwives, no free health checks for seniors, reduced GP fees — those kinds of things are not addressed in this particular budget. And in fact, figures from the Child Poverty Action Group show that spending on public health is forecast to be the lowest in a decade by 2023.
Well, what we’ve done is prioritise mental health, and we’ve been completely upfront about that from day one. We have a mental health crisis in New Zealand. It’s been ignored, but there’s still significant resources going into the rest of our health system, around $2.9 billion into supporting DHBs, more money for ambulances. There are other areas, within our coalition agreement, within our confidence-and-supply agreement that we’ll look to address in next year’s Budget, but we made mental health a priority.
Such as?
Well, you’ll have to wait till next year.
What about teachers, though? They’re crying out for some more love from the government, and they’ve just announced more disruptive action. So why couldn’t you address that in this Budget?
We believe we’ve got a fair offer on the table, the $1.2 billion offer. The Budget also addresses some of the non-pay-related issues that teachers have been raising. Six hundred learning support coordinators for what we used to call special ed. 2480 more teachers—
And yet they’re still unhappy?
Well, that’s the reality of the world. What I hope is happening, and I’m pretty sure it is happening right now, is that the Ministry of Education and the unions are sitting down together to say, ‘Look, how can we resolve this?’ We want it resolved. We understand the frustration of teachers after 10 years of not getting supported. Let’s take these first steps together now.
What is there in this Budget for middle New Zealanders? Sort of, those low to middle income families. There doesn’t seem to be anything.
Well, I’d give you one example. We’re removing school donations for decile one to seven schools.
But in the hip pocket there’s nothing like tax bracket creep or anything like that.
Well, look, we’ve made a commitment not to change tax rates in this term of government because we believe that we need the resources that are there to meet the needs that are there.
Well, let’s talk about housing. There is nothing actually, really, apart from the Housing First — the transitional housing — there’s nothing else for housing in this Budget. You’ve got KiwiBuild, which has stalled at the moment because it’s not delivering.
We put $2 billion in last year’s Budget for KiwiBuild for the life of the programme—
And it’s not delivering.
And as you know, there is a housing reset coming forward, and actually in the Budget documents we state that we’ve put some money aside to help manage that housing reset.
How much?
You’ll see the details of that when the reset’s released.
What about the policies that you agreed with the Greens, like a shared equity scheme to get more people to be able to afford to buy into our houses. What happened to that?
As I say, you’ll have to wait for the housing reset that Minister Twyford’s going to announce, but clearly we’ve got a large-scale building programme for housing that’s not just about KiwiBuild. It’s about state housing, transitional housing. Mr Twyford’s now going to come back with that reset, and you’ll be able to see—
But there’s 11,000 people on the state housing list, and there’s nothing extra in this Budget for them.
Well, we made a significant investment in the building of 6000 state houses in the last Budget. We’ve got an integrated programme with transitional housing and affordable housing. Phil Twyford’s going to announce a housing reset. We’ve set some money aside to support that.
What would you say to business-owners, teachers and say, middle income, low-income earners — some of those feel left out by Budget 2019. What would you say to them? What hope will you offer them for next year?
Look, I’ve always said that the three budgets of this term are a trilogy. Last year we did the foundation-building of making sure we got spending back into those core areas. This year we’ve targeted areas like mental health that all of those people will benefit from. We’ve got a third Budget to come as well.
So is that going to be the blockbuster for these people?
No, I see them all as part of an attempt to start turning around a decade of neglect in a lot of important areas in New Zealand. Two-thirds of the way through, I think we’re making good progress.

Kiwibuild not affected by the budget

There were comments about the omission of Kiwibuild from budget announcements

Newstalk ZB: No money for flagship housing policy KiwiBuild in the Budget

There have been plenty of winners in today’s Budget, but one of the big losers has been the housing portfolio.

Apart from $283 million for transitional housing, and $197 million to boost emergency housing, there’s not much in budget 2019.

One thing in particular stands out is the Government’s flagship housing policy KiwiBuild, which has not received any additional funding.

@HenryCooke explains:

I don’t understand why people are writing about KiwiBuild not getting any new money like it is interesting. it wouldn’t have got any even if the policy was going well. the $2b envelope has been fairly firm and its problems are NOT down to a lack of cash.

Maybe you could make the argument whatever comes out of the reset will require new cash, but two billion dollars is a lot of effing money.

If anything the Budget shows Kiwibuild’s one great success so far – because the money ain’t being spent it is making the short term surplus bigger.

Stuff: Govt made right call in leaving floundering KiwiBuild out of the Budget

Fixing New Zealand’s housing affordability crisis was one of Labour’s key policy goals going into the last two elections.

But KiwiBuild has been conspicuously absent from the Government’s vocabulary in recent months, and yesterday’s Budget was no different.

The Government might not have given up trying to improve housing affordability, but it seems to have realised that KiwiBuild is not the answer to the problem.

The bulk of the additional $90 million per year allocated to Housing and Urban Development in the Budget will go towards emergency and transitional housing. It’s not sensible to throw good money after bad, so the silence on KiwiBuild is welcome.

But:

Minister Phil Twyford is not short of cash to use for KiwiBuild’s supposed “recalibration” anyway. Just 101 KiwiBuild homes have been completed – and the majority of those had already been financed by developers and were under construction before Twyford put a KiwiBuild sticker on them.

So it’s not like the Government has used much of the $2 billion of capital set aside for the programme. Even by July 2020, the Government only expects to have completed 1535 homes, which is woefully short of its initial target.

The fact that more than 10 per cent of the small number of completed KiwiBuild homes have failed to sell reiterates the policy’s poor design.

Kiwibuild was not a problem in this budget, it has been a problem since it was conceived.

A pretty good budget

I despair about the circus leading up to and surrounding yesterday’s budget. Media even investigated the person on the cover photo of the printed budget in a bizarre sideshow. And there were a number of ‘what’s in it for you’ angles, despite lolly scramble budgets largely being very historic,

But for what really mattered, I think that yesterday’s budget was pretty good, delivered by someone who increasingly looks like a pretty good Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson.

A significant boost to mental health related initiatives is long overdue, and very good to see,

Indexing benefits to wages is also a long overdue fix to the erosion of benefit value over the years.

There’s a bunch of other stuff that can be praised or quibbled about, but generally it seems ok to me.

There is always a limit to how much a Government can spend of our money, and there’s a limit to tolerance of how much we are taxed. Robertson and the Government seems to me to have found a fairly good balance. They will never please all of the people all of the time, but I don’t think there’s much to be worried about.

Budget today

It is budget day in Parliament. I don’t see any point in saying much until we know what is in it.

Police say that budget leaks not unlawful

Police have conformed what has been widely claimed already about the budget leak – they say the information was obtained by ‘exploiting a bug’.  What? Online viruses exploit bugs, but that doesn’t make them lawful.

Whatever the law says on this, questions about the ethics of National publicising the material they obtained remain. As has been pointed out, they could have highlighted the flaws in information security without abusing the budget process.

Stuff:  Budget leaks ‘not unlawful’, no further police action

In a statement ahead of Thursday’s budget and an expected press conference from the National Party where leader Simon Bridges was to explain how he got his hands on budget information early this week, the Treasury said that police had advised that “an unknown person or persons appear to have exploited a feature in the website search tool” – but that this “does not appear to be unlawful”.

Police are therefore not planning further action, but the State Services Commission will undertake an inquiry into the issue.

The Treasury said it and and the GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre has been working on establishing the facts.

“As part of its preparation for Budget 2019, the Treasury developed a clone of its website. Budget information was added to the clone website as and when each Budget document was finalised,” it said in a statement.

“On Budget Day, the Treasury intended to swap the clone website to the live website so that the Budget 2019 information was available online. The clone website was not publically accessible.

“As part of the search function on the website, content is indexed to make the search faster. Search results can be presented with the text in the document that surrounds the search phrase.

“The clone also copies all settings for the website including where the index resides. This led to the index on the live site also containing entries for content that was published only on the clone site.

“As a result, a specifically-worded search would be able to surface small amounts of content from the 2019/20 Estimates documents.

“A large number (approx. 2000) of search terms were placed into the search bar looking for specific information on the 2019 Budget.

“The searches used phrases from the 2018 Budget that were followed by the ‘Summary’ of each Vote. This would return a few sentences – that included the headlines for each Vote paper – but the search would not return the whole document.

“At no point were any full 2019/20 documents accessible outside of the Treasury network.”

The Treasury said the evidence shows “deliberate, systematic and persistent searching of a website that was clearly not intended to be public”.

So there seem to be problems that need resolving.

But what about what National did with the information they obtained?

Lawyer Stephen Price yesterday – Budget leak: Nats’ behaviour “entirely appropriate”?

I’ve just been listening to Simon Bridges’ press conference at Parliament about the budget leak. His main point was to deny that the leaked budget material was a result of a hack. But he made the broader claim that the Nats’ behaviour throughout was “entirely appropriate”. He said there had been “nothing illegal or anything approaching that from the National Party.” He denied that their conduct was at any point unlawful.

I think he’s wrong. I think the Nats have probably engaged in  unlawful behaviour from the get-go. That’s regardless of whether the budget material they released was hacked. The Nats have broken the law relating to Breach of Confidence.

That’s not a crime. It’s a civil claim, like defamation or negligence. But it is the law.

If information is confidential in nature – that is, not in the public domain – and was created and shared in circumstances in which those possessing it knew is was supposed to be confidential, and was then disclosed without permission, that’s a breach of confidence. That obligation of confidence will usually bind anyone else who comes into possession of the information.

There is a public interest defence. That’s what usually protects the media when they receive leaks. Otherwise, as you might have noticed, almost all leaks to the media (especially from employees with clear obligations of confidentiality) fall foul of this law. But usually, there will be some substantial justification the media can use. They will be able to point to some significant way the public is being served by the release of the information that would otherwise be protected by the obligation of confidence.

Is there public interest here? I can’t see it. The information was to be publicly released in two days. The National Party could freely criticise it then. How are the public really made better off by learning of these criticisms two days in advance? Is there really any benefit to a matter of legitimate public concern that overrides the obvious – and perhaps even constitutional – confidentiality that attaches to budget papers?

Nor can National argue that it needed to release the information to hold the government to account for its bungling in allowing the leak. It could have made that case without actually releasing the data.

I think there is a better argument that it was against the public interest for National to have publicised the budget information they obtained.

What could National argue? The best I can come up with is: “We felt it was in the public interest to prick the balloon of spin that the government was floating about the budget being a ‘wellbeing’ budget, and itself revealing bits of it in advance, by providing the public with information that revealed these claims to be misleading. In this we were fulfilling our constitutional duty to hold the government to account. And we didn’t release any market sensitive information.”

I don’t think that works. They could make those arguments in two days time and the public would be no worse off. I also note that it turns on the accuracy of the criticism. If the numbers are wrong, or taken out of context, or do not really reveal any misleading government behaviour, that would undermine any attempt to say that the releases were in the public interest. Finally, the fact that the National Party was drip-feeding the leaks tells against any claim that the public needed to have the information urgently and couldn’t wait two days for the budget.

Treasury has been embarrassed by the leak of budget information, whether it was obtained legally or not.

I think that National could have acted with integrity in pointing out the flaw, but they went much further than this by playing politics – they acted on heir own interests rather than public interests. Except that if the public doesn’t like the way they have done things it may not be in their own interests.

I don’t think it enhances Simon Bridges’ leadership credentials. If he wanted to prove himself as a responsible leader he would have highlighted the bug without exploiting it for some short term (two day) political gain.

 

 

 

Treasury refer claimed hacking to police following budget leak

The budget leak publicised by National yesterday has got a lot murkier, with Treasury now saying they have been hacked. The matter has been referred to the police, but Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges is unrepentant for trying to hijack Thursday’s budget announcement.

The leak looks embarrassing for the Government, and also for Treasury, but I think the leak stunt also reflects very poorly on Bridges and National. Bridges has demanded that Minister of Finance Grant Robertson resign over the leak.

1 News: Budget 2019 leaks by National came after Treasury was ‘deliberately and systematically hacked’

Earlier today the National Party leaked what it claimed were highly secretive details of the Government’s wellbeing Budget, due to be delivered on Thursday.

Treasury has confirmed in a statement it was the source of National’s Budget 2019 leaks today after its “systems were deliberately and systematically hacked”.

Confirming the hack this evening Treasury released the following statement:

“Following this morning’s media reports of a potential leak of Budget information, the Treasury has gathered sufficient evidence to indicate that its systems have been deliberately and systematically hacked.

“The Treasury has referred the matter to the Police on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre.

“The Treasury takes the security of all the information it holds extremely seriously. It has taken immediate steps today to increase the security of all Budget-related information and will be undertaking a full review of information security processes.

“There is no evidence that any personal information held by the Treasury has been subject to this hacking.”

Responding to confirmation of the the hack, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said is a statement:

“This is extremely serious and is now a matter for the Police. We have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a Police investigation.”

But Bridges continued on the attack:

If it turns out that budget documents were hacked from Treasury will Bridges resign for using hacked material to try to undermine the Government?

 

Budget leaked

National claims to have been leaked the budget ahead of it going public on Thursday. If National have obtained a copy, that’s bad. But it is also bad that they are making parts of it public.

I can’t remember a budget leak before this.

RNZ – Budget leak: Embarrassing error or conspiracy?

A major pre-Budget bomb has dropped on the Beehive with top level Budget information ending up in the hands of the National Party.

The Prime Minister’s regular media stand-up at Parliament this morning was ticking along with questions about mental health, funding for dentistry and the Debbie Francis report when the news broke – the timing was of course no coincidence.

Jacinda Ardern was blindsided and reporters had just enough time to digest the document released by National before heading to leader Simon Bridges’ regular Tuesday question and answer session.

“National reveals Budget details” screamed the headline on the media release.

With it was a document claiming to reveal the funding for 18 policy areas for the next financial year.

It spanned major portfolios including health, defence, overseas aid, customs, Maori development and justice.

“This is not the Wellbeing Budget it’s the Winston Budget”, declared Mr Bridges.

That’s a reference to Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston and a $1.3 billion spend on defence assets in National’s documents.

But Mr Bridges was a lot more reticent when asked about how National had come across the information – “cock-up or conspiracy?” asked one reporter.

One possibility is that someone within the Government deliberately leaked the material to National.

Mr Bridges talked about a “loose and incompetent” government and would not go as far as calling it a leak, so that seems less likely.

More likely is that someone has been careless with the information and it has ended up with National through human error.

The Finance Minister Grant Robertson hastily convened a media conference where he said some of the figures were right, but some were wrong.

The “major new initiatives”, he said, were not in the National Party document.

The only specific comment he made was about the defence spending, confirming it does includes the purchase of Boeing P-8A Poseidon Aircraft, which had already been announced.

But other than that he refused to say which other parts were right or wrong, or even how much of it was accurate.

The hunt for who was responsible will only begin in earnest once the Budget has been delivered on Thursday, but Treasury is already investigating.

There is actually serious financial implications of part of budgets being leaked ahead of the official release date.

And it is a serious matter if the budget has been deliberately leaked to the Opposition.

Circus politics seems to be getting worse.