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?

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.

Slater reverses his claims about leaker

Cameron Slater has reversed his claims about who leaked Simon Bridges’ expenses, switching from saying with some certainty that Jami-Lee Ross was the leaker to saying he wasn’t.

Slater often makes dubious claims, and often doesn’t back up his claims with facts. And when one of his claims later turns out to be true he claims to be some sort of brilliant sage – but he doesn’t mention the ones that are disproven or never proven.

So I think that most people are (or should be) very sceptical of what he claims without having or showing any evidence.

He also sometimes directly contradicts himself, as he has done over the expenses.

18 August: Who is the leaker?

The back channel chatter suggests that the leaker of Simon Bridges’ travel expenses is in fact a National caucus member.

My sources inside National as well as inside Labour are saying it is now known who the leaker is and it is only a matter of time before they are outed:

They will have to resign, because if it is a National MP it will have caused destabilisation of the leader and also no one will ever speak to them again. It was also a stupid move as there was no real gain and it looks like it will blow back on them bigly.

24 August: Who’s National’s dirty little leaker?

It is obvious that the leaker is connected to a caucus member. It is also obvious that people know who the dirty little leaker is.

Simon Bridges must act strongly on this, both the leaker and the caucus member who provided the details need to be rinsed very hard and very publicly otherwise he will appear weak. If Bridges fails to act strongly it is only a matter of time before he is stabbed and at a time that would be inopportune for him.

I still suspect the caucus member concerned is a member of “The Puddle”. I guess we will find out soon enough though because my caucus sources say that it is almost certain that the culprit/s will be found.

Here Slater suggests that the caucus member responsible may have used someone to do the actual leak.

And note he says that “the caucus member who provided the details need to be rinsed very hard and very publicly otherwise he will appear weak” – now Slater is blaming Bridges for pressuring Jami-Lee Ross.

24 August: Let’s play connect the dots to help find National’s dirty little leaker

I happen to have Mallard’s mobile number, and Bridges. However, I categorically deny that I have active mental health issues and further deny, since people are speculating, that it was me who leaked. I certainly would never leak to Radio New Zealand or to Newshub, especially to Tova O’Brien.

It is widely suspected that Slater leaked communications from Ross , claimed to be with Ross’ permission, to Radio New Zealand two days ago.

This was a stupid leak, that has achieved nothing, as it was all going to be public anyway, and Simon Bridges was just doing his job, using resources allocated to him for that purpose.

Frankly, I believe the excuse of mental health issues is just a bit too convenient.

An interesting comment given what we know now.

At this stage it appears that Slater doesn’t know the identity of the leaker.

26 August: Herald editorial on National’s dirty little leaker

Simon Bridges should have just shrugged and said that leaks happen, meh, and the information was going to be released in a few days anyway. He didn’t and so the mess he has is of his own making.

He still has a problem in that the leaker seems to have gotten away with it, and will now likely be emboldened to go again. It is also obvious that this was personal and political, an attempt to destabilise the leader. This hit failed, but ultimately it may well be the first of many cuts to come from National’s dirty little leaker. Bridges should give the task of outing the leaker to someone who can handle it. To do nothing will cement the impression that he is weak.

Here he appears to be trying to goad Bridges into doing more to out the leaker to avoid appearing weak. From this comment it sounds like Slater could know something about the campaign against Bridges.

27 August: When not if for Simon Bridges if he can’t find the leaker

Heather du Plessis-Allan thinks it is now just a matter of time for Simon Bridges’ leadership if he fails to find the leaker.

I still believe that this leak and the subsequent texts were from ‘The Puddle’ and people closely associated with them.

Either a diversion from Ross, or at this stage he doesn’t know who was responsible.

28 August: When not if for Simon Bridges if he can’t find the leaker

He said police told him they would ensure the person had all the wraparound support they needed.

Gay. He should be hunting down this person and cutting their throat.

He still gives no indication he knows who the leaker was, but proposes continuing the hunt and a ruthless response.

19 September (Newshub) – Winston Peters tells Parliament everyone there already knows who the leaker is, while looking at Jami-Lee Ross’ vacant seat.

“The New Zealand taxpayers paying for this absolutely mindless, hopeless inquiry, the end pathway and result of which we already know. So why don’t we just cut to the chase here? Pay the money over to us, and we’ll give you the answer. Ha, ha! It is phenomenal.”

22 September:  Winston to Bridges: “…reveal to the public who the leaker is, or I will”

Winston Peters says he knows who National’s dirty little leaker is, as do many, but he has upped the ante on this by saying that unless Simon Bridges names the leaker then he will.

I believe that Winston Peters does know who the leaker is. It is pretty much an open secret now among National people. I understand that the leaker has admitted as such to some Young Nationals in Auckland. I also know now who it is, and that is from many sources, all saying the same name. The clock is ticking.

So while Slater suddenly claims to know who the leaker is, after Peters indicated Ross in Parliament, he suddenly starts saying that the identity is widely known.

But in comments:

So Winston proves he has no compassion, doesn’t this person have mental issues. Imagine if they topped themselves, how would Winston feel then.

Slater: They do not have mental issues. That was a ruse to distract from the real leaker and to smear other National party MPs who do have issues.

1 October: A history lesson for National’s dirty little leaker

National has a leaker. This person, who three days before they were to be released anyway, leaked the travel expenses of leader Simon Bridges.

To what end no one knows as apart from a pathetic couple of text messages to the speaker and Bridges himself they have remained silent. The brave leaker used the cowards device, a burner phone, but reportedly was traced anyway by police.

Leakers usually leak for a number of reasons, mostly it is hurty feelings at their perception of being treated badly. Sometimes it is a higher ethical rational, but not often .

3 October: A history lesson for National’s dirty little leaker

Bridges and especially Paula Bennett are trying to spread rumours. It will backfire, and seems to have backfired.

6 October: Yes Tracy, I think he is a dead man walking

There is a lot of water to go under the bridge yet on the leak scandal. I don’t think that Bridges will survive that now.

7 October:  Why the media beat-up on Simon Bridges?

I will admit that Bridges did not handle either the issue of the leaked expenses or Jamie-Lee Ross’s departure on medical leave very well. He could have done better on both counts but that doesn’t make him a ‘dead man walking’.

He is quite inconsistent at this stage. he has said he knows who the leaker is but hasn’t named them.

15 October: War breaks out in National as Jami-lee Ross named as leaker

This afternoon Simon Bridges released the report into the leaker and named Jami-lee Ross as the leaker. This confirms what I have known for more than a month.

Peters pointed his finger at Ross just under a month earlier. Slater showed no sign of knowing who the leaker was before that.

He now accepts that Ross was the leaker.

Simon Bridges is as exposed as Jami-lee Ross is right now. He is exposed for his weakness as a leader, in not dumping Ross weeks ago and taking the soft option.

My position as regards to the leaker is the same as it has always been. Find them, rinse them, move on.

Another suggestion to ‘rinse’ the leaker.

Slater in comments:

You need to read more carefully. I’ve been saying for months it was a National MP.

That was a fairly easy guess to make.

16 October: Career over for Jami-lee Ross, probably for Simon Bridges too

Jami-Lee Ross has been named as National’s dirty little leaker, and even though he is a friend my position remains the same. He’s finished as a National MP. No caucus member will tolerate him and it is unlikely that he can tough this out.

The caucus will vote to rinse Jami-Lee because he is a sneaky weasel who caused their privacy to be invaded when he knew all along it was him. That’s the politics. He could have said when Bridges announced his inquiry that he was the leaker and then dropped the recordings he says he has.

If he does have those recordings now is the time to drop them. It will finish off Bridges if they say what Jami-Lee says they say. He may as well drop them because his political career is over, and he may as well take Bridges with him.

Once Ross was named as the probable leaker Slater seems to accept that this is true. He doesn’t argue against it.

There is no coup, but there is huge disappointment in Bridges and the way he has handled this. He’s known for months who the leaker was. If I knew then so did Bridges.

But there is no indication that Slater knew who it was ‘for months’. It is common for him to try to sound well informed and in the know, but he tends to embellish this.

But over the weekend Ross was committed into mental care and Slater became closely involved. And his claims changed. He bitterly blasted Bridges for putting Ross under pressure – and he started to claim that Ross wasn’t the leaker.

22 October: Whaleoil backchat (Comments):

So Slater now claims that Ross didn’t leak the expenses? He has previously bragged about knowing it was Ross ‘for months’.

He could be technically correct – in August he said “It is obvious that the leaker is connected to a caucus member. It is also obvious that people know who the dirty little leaker is.” So Ross could have used a third party to do the actual handing over of the information to O’Brien – but if he initiated it he is still a leaker.

24 October: Despicable text sent to Jami-Lee Ross by female MP

Isn’t it far simpler to believe that what Jami-Lee Ross said was correct…

Ross denies being the original leaker. Slater is now suggesting that he be believed? On everything?

In comments:

So a hatchet job, against all medical advice ,that nearly killed someone…is hot air? Good to know.

Earlier Slater had claimed “They do not have mental issues”, and “He should be hunting down this person and cutting their throat.”

The point is there was no wrong doing. JLR didn’t even leak the expenses. So why the hatchet job…and now the cover up.

He now claims that Ross didn’t leak the expenses. This is quite a reversal.

The hit job was designed to utterly destroy any sympathy for JLR, not that I ahve any for his actions. he needs to own those and I’ve said constantly that he must. But there are other people acting in this, against JLR and they need to explain their own actions too. What was presented by the National party and the complicit media was a shabby, stitched up hatchet job. That hatchet job was against all medical advice and Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett are lying about what they knew and when. The state that JLR got himself into on Saturday is as much their fault as it is his. I am not defending JLR but I am holding the leadership to account.

It seems clear that suddenly Slater is talking to Ross and believing what he says. Ross has proven as unreliable in what he says as Slater.

“The media needs to focus on holding people to account for their actions and their continued lies.”

“The more they lie the more they will need to be corrected for their lies.”

That’s what I’m doing here. But with Slater it can be difficult to separate bullshit, bluster and lies. in my experience people like him don’t seem to know when what they make up is incorrect or inaccurate.

 

 

A big day for Simon Bridges

Yesterday was an awful day for Simon Bridges, and for the National Opposition, but I actually think Bridges handled the mess reasonably well, stepping up in difficult circumstances, showing he may have some leadership abilities after all. To me he came across ok at his media conference, speaking better than normal – having to speak off the cuff on important matters, and no lame scripted platitudes nor his normal boilerplate criticism of the government.

There were signs of solid support from other National MPs like Judith Collins and Maggie Barry. I can imagine most if not all National MPs being very pissed off at what Jami-Lee Ross had inflicted on them, their party, and on their prospects in the next election. It was a possible sign of real solidarity rather than feigned fawning.

How Bridges handles today may determine whether he survives as National leader or dives irrecoverably.

The National caucus will meet to consider what to do about Ross over what now looks like his very likely leaking of Bridges’ expenses (the original offence), him almost certainly being the MP who sent messages asking for the inquiry to be called off because of mental health pressures (was that real or was it a desperate attempt to escape exposure), and his very clear deliberate damaging of Bridges and the National party yesterday.

Bridges also referred to other matters:

I also discussed with Jami-Lee other matters concerning his conduct that have come to my attention and suggest, together with the leak, a pattern.

MP Maggie Barry gave more of an indication what this referred to:

What a disloyal disgrace this flawed & isolated individual has become. Having now read the PWC report I personally believe the unpleasant & bullying pattern of behaviour of Jami Lee Ross has no place in an otherwise united National Caucus under our leader Simon Bridges.

I think that Bridges and National caucus have no option but to dump Ross from the caucus, on his behaviour yesterday alone.

How Bridges manages this publicly will show his mettle as a leader. If he is as decisive as he is able to be it may end up enhancing his leadership prospects.

There are limits. Ross cannot be removed as an electorate MP by anyone but himself or the voters at the next election. He could continue to spit the dummy, causing ongoing problems for Bridges, but his credibility is wrecked and if Bridges does ok handling it then he may build his leadership mana.

From what I’ve seen so far I don’t think the stuff yesterday about donations is a big deal. MPs and parties (plural) fiddle their donations, usually within lax rules, and generally the public don’t care much.

Yesterday looked more like an attempted hit job on Bridges. That may not harm him.

Ross also claimed to have a secret recording of Bridges “discussing with me an unlawful activity”. As Judith Collins said, he needs to “put up, or to shut up”. It also raises the question of whether making a secret recording is an unlawful activity itself. It is certainly political career ending action or threat.

Bridges has a chance of coming out of this ok, of actually looking like a leader. There will be difficulties and repercussions for National, but that’s what leaders have to deal with. If Bridges does it well his job may be more secure.

On the other hand if he fluffs it he will be toast.

So it’s a crucial day for Bridges and his leadership, and also for the National Party.

There’s an old saying in politics that goes something like ‘it’s not the original issue that causes the damage, it’s how it is handled’. The same could apply here.

I think voters know leaders will find themselves in difficult situations dealing with difficult people. That’s politics. The key here will be whether Bridges steps up as a leader to sort things out or not.

There were glimpses yesterday that this  could be the un-wimping of Bridges.

Bridges-Ross-National gets messier

Simon Bridges was already struggling with the leak issue. This morning Duncan Garner confronted him with another leak, this time over incorrectly filed donations. Bridges set up a press conference for 1 pm and Jami-Lee Ross pre-empted that with a series of tweets, claiming he had an incriminating secret recording with of Bridges.

In reverse order:

At the media conference Bridges said the leak investigation found that on the balance of probabilities Ross was the leaker (and it looks that way). His official statement:

Statement on National Party Leak Inquiry

Earlier today I received the independent report from PwC on their investigation into the recent leak of the National Party’s travel expenses.

The report states that the evidence identified points to Jami Lee Ross as being the person who sent the anonymous text message.

I am releasing the report today.

John Billington QC has independently assessed the investigation report. It is his opinion that on the balance of probabilities the evidence establishes that Jami-Lee Ross was the person who leaked the expenses and the sender of the text message.

I accept both the investigation report and the opinion of Mr Billington.

Earlier today I visited Jami-Lee Ross with Paula Bennett and explained to him the report and the opinion of Mr Billington and gave him an opportunity to respond. I was not satisfied with his explanation.

I also discussed with Jami-Lee other matters concerning his conduct that have come to my attention and suggest, together with the leak, a pattern.

I informed Jami-Lee that tomorrow the investigation report and Mr Billington’s opinion will be presented at a meeting of the National Party Caucus along with the other matters.

The Caucus will be asked to consider all relevant matters, including his membership of the Caucus.

Finally, you will recall Jami-Lee recently took leave from Parliament given personal health issues.

This action today is completely separate. I did not know what the investigation report would contain when those matters were addressed in recent weeks.

Today I have taken steps to ensure that Jami-Lee has the necessary support around him at this time.

The step that I have taken today is not made lightly. I am balancing the health issues with the considerable public interest in the outcome of the investigation.

The report is here: http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1810/PWC_Investigation_Report_into_National_Leak.pdf

Media are reporting there have been other complaints about Ross.

Ross is now clearly done as a politician, no party would trust him after this.

Bridges is also on even shakier ground than before as National leader, Much may depend on how he deals with this tomorrow at and after National’s caucus meeting.

Mallard and Parliamentary Services cleared of Bridges leaked

A lack of evidence connecting Trevor Mallard or Parliamentary Services to the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses makes more of a mountain out of what looks increasingly like a mole in the National Party.

RNZ:  Bridges’ expenses inquiry narrows down possible leakers

Mr Mallard initially called a Parliamentary inquiry into the leak but that was overtaken by political events.

His inquiry ended in August after RNZ revealed the person claiming to be both the leaker and a National MP contacted Mr Bridges and Mr Mallard pleading for it to be stopped for the sake of their mental health.

Subsequently, a National Party inquiry was launched – the findings are expected in the next week.

Mr Mallard arranged a forensic investigation of emails and relevant databases connected to his office and those staff involved in the preparation of the expenses – about 20 staff in total.

KPMG, who carried it out, has concluded there is no evidence that Mr Mallard or any Parliamentary Service finance staff were responsible for the leak.

“On the basis of this independent review there is no evidence that staff in the office of the Speaker, Mr Speaker or Parliamentary Service finance and corporate staff released details of this quarterly expense disclosure report to any unauthorised parties,” the report said.

This doesn’t surprise me – why on earth would Mallard or anyone in Parliamentary Services leak expenses information that was due to be officially released a few days later? It defies logic.

With those possibilities ruled out that leaves National MPs and their staff or someone in the National Party.

Mr Bridges has repeatedly insisted none of his MPs were responsible but now that Mr Mallard has all but cleared his own name, his office staff and the Parliamentary Service staff involved in the preparation of the expenses, the finger of blame is pointing to the National Party.

The National Party’s own investigation is being led by PWC and Simpson Grierson.

It will consider both the original leak to Newshub and the subsequent text sent by someone citing mental health issues.

PWC will conduct the forensic work and lawyers at Simpson Grierson will be responsible for filtering what information is and is not passed onto Mr Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett.

So this bizarre issue will keep festering away for Bridges for a while yet.

If the leaker is discovered and revealed to be a National MP that will be tricky for Bridges to deal with.

If Bridges decides not to reveal the outcome of the inquiry it will be tricky for Bridges.

It’s hard to see a good outcome for Bridges. He may have created a mountain of a mess from a mole in his party.

Meka Whaitiri inquiry report leaked, not definitive but damaging

Another leak, this time of the draft report that led to Labour MP Meka Whaitiri being dropped as a minister. So while Jacinda Ardern walks and talks on the world stage this is another problem she left behind still festering.

Audrey Young (NZH) – The minister & the staffer: Leaked report into Meka Whaitiri incident

The incident involving former Government minister Meka Whaitiri and a staff member allegedly left bruising to the upper right arm of the staffer and photos of bruises were produced to the inquiry, a draft report leaked to the Herald shows.

The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media standup with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a lunch break at a function in Gisborne.

Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn’t because no one had told her it was happening.

There is no dispute that Whaitiri had words with her staffer for missing the event.

The staff member claims that Whaitiri came up behind her in the foyer of the building and grabbed her arm hard and took her outside when she saw Ardern having the standup.

But Whaitiri denies physically touching her staff member at any stage. There were no witnesses.

David Patten, the Wellington lawyer who conducted the inquiry for Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, found on the balance of probabilities that the staff member’s version was the more likely explanation.

He found that Whaitiri did not pull or drag the press secretary outside from the foyer of the building where the meeting was taking place.

But he found it more probable that Whaitiri approached the staffer from behind and grabbed her by the arm and that Whaitiri spoke in a raised voice to the staffer.

In evidence to the inquiry, the staff member said Whaitiri had blamed her for missing the media standup with the Prime Minister.

“She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice.

“I wouldn’t say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I’d missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate.”

The staffer originally told the inquiry that Whaitiri had pinched her arm but changed that to grabbed.

“It was hard and it scared the living daylights out of me,” she said.

In other parts of her evidence, she said: “She was definitely angry, and was definitely mad that I had screwed up. It scared me a lot and I didn’t want to return to that [work environment].”

Patten questioned the staff member about the bruises, why it took three days to see them and whether they could have been caused by something else such as a door handle.

She said it wasn’t until she was at a meeting with ministerial services on August 30 that they asked if there were any marks and until then she hadn’t thought to look.

Patten’s finding in the draft report is: “The photographs taken by Morag Ingram on August 30 2018 of [the press secretary’s] upper right arm showing a bruise on that arm … are consistent, in my view, with someone being approached from behind and grabbed by a
right-handed person”.

So this issue won’t go away. Even if no further action is taken and Whaitiri remains an MP – she is strongly backed by other Maori MPs – this is likely to keep being used against Labour and questions will keep being asked about Ardern’s leadership.

Audrey Young: Hard to see MP return as a minister

When Jacinda Ardern sacked Meka Whaitiri a week ago, it was on a trust-me basis.

She said she couldn’t tell the country why she had sacked the minister, her first sacking, without breaching the privacy of a staff member who complained about the minister — even though no one has named the staffer.

She relied on a report by a respected barrister, and after reading it Ardern no longer had confidence in Whaitiri as a minister “at this time”.

The draft findings, leaked to the Herald, clearly reveal why Ardern reached the decision she did on the basis of David Patten’s report.

On the balance of probabilities he is inclined to believe that Whaitiri was very annoyed she had not been alerted by her press secretary to the fact that Ardern was holding a standup where we see MPs nodding in the background, that she grabbed her staffer by the arm to say they needed to talk outside, and then pointed out to her in forceful language that it was her job to make sure she didn’t miss out on such media opportunities. The alleged grabbing of the arm and the bruises are the clincher, though Whaitiri denies physical contact.

Realistically it will be impossible for Whaitiri to return as a minister this term. A byelection in Ikaroa-Rawhiti is unlikely unless the pressure becomes too much.

Whaitiri has an unswerving support base in the Māori caucus.

So this leaves things in an awkward situation.

Two days ago (Newshub): ‘Absolutely gutted’ – Meka Whaitiri speaks for the first time since she was fired

Meka Whaitiri has spoken to media for the first time since being fired from her ministerial portfolios on Thursday last week.

She said it’s been a “debilitating time. I’m absolutely gutted by it.”

“I accept the Prime Minister’s decision. I’m going to take time now to reflect and look at ways of improving myself to regain the Prime Minister’s confidence.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do here on behalf of the people of Ikaroa-Rawhiti. I just want to get on with it,” Ms Whaitiri said.

She added she was “humbled” by the support of the Māori caucus.

Ms Whaitiri would not say which aspects of the report she disputes or whether she would contest the 2020 election.

She still has Maori MP support:

Ms Whaitiri remains an electorate MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and co-chair of the Māori caucus, alongside Willy Jackson.

Mr Jackson said she is fit to remain co-chair of the Māori caucus.

“The Māori caucus has taken into account the great work that she has done and in terms of our strategies going forward. There’s a heck of a lot of support there.”

That support may or may not be sufficient to make it tenable for Whaitiri to stand again in her electorate. if she does the level of support in the electorate will then be tested and measured, but it will be difficult to measure the impact on Labour party support.

Perhaps, like Clare Curran, Whaitiri just doesn’t have a suitable temperament or the leadership skills required to be a Minister. The question will remain as to whether this also applies to being an MP.