Court insists that Peters provide answers

Winston Peters is finding out that he can’t avoid answering questions in a legal proceeding – unlike his frequent fobbing off of media questions.

He has been ordered to pay “modest costs” for failing to adequately answer questions.

Peters was paid a single person rate since 2010 while living in a de facto relationship, until his partner claimed Superannuation in 2017.

Court documents have confirmed that MSD  sent Peters a letter in 2014 asking him to check the details he had supplied. Peters says that he doesn’t recall receiving the letter. He failed to answer whether he had contacted MSD after receiving the letter.

This came out in a High Court hearing last Friday.

Newsroom – Judge to Peters: Answer the questions

Court documents have confirmed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was sent a letter by officials four years into his seven-year overpayment of national superannuation asking him to check details he had supplied, including that he was ‘single’.

He continued to receive the higher rate of superannuation for ‘single, shared accommodation’ rather than his actual ‘de facto relationship’ for three further years.

In answer to questions by Crown lawyers in a case brought by the Deputy Prime Minister to prove departments and two former ministers breached his privacy by sharing in 2017 information on his overpayment, Peters says he does not recall receiving the letter “but I do not doubt I would have received it”.

Peters had to repay around $18,000 to the ministry after the overpayment came to light months before the 2017 election, when his partner applied for her own superannuation. An unknown whistleblower alerted media but Peters announced the overpayment himself before the news could break.

The question and answer over the March 2014 letter asking him to check what he had told MSD in 2010 is included in a new judgment in the case, dealing with a Crown request for the court to order Peters to give answers.

Chief High Court Justice Geoffrey Venning has now ordered Peters to supply answers by Friday to several questions he had not adequately addressed.

He also ordered Peters to pay “modest” costs over this round of the case.

While the judge did not make Peters give further answers over his filling out and initialling of the original superannuation application from 2010, or specify for how many years before then he had been in his de facto relationship, he did order more information from the MP.

For example, the judge found Peters’ answer to the Crown lawyers’ question of “As at March 18, 2014, were you living with Ms Janet Trotman in a de facto relationship?” was “general in the extreme” and “is to be answered”.

He also had failed to answer the Crown’s question on whether he had contacted MSD after the 2014 letter.

Further, Peters had not answered if he told MSD officials at their office in Ellerslie on July 26, 2017, that his claim on his original superannuation application that he was ‘single’ was incorrect. “The question is to be answered,” the judge said.

Peters had not answered a question over whether at that meeting “you agreed that you were not and had never been, entitled to receive National Superannuation at the rate you had been receiving it (the ‘single, sharing accommodation’) rate.” The Judge said he must now answer.

The NZ First leader had also not answered a direct question of “who disclosed the issue of the overpayment of New Zealand Superannuation to you to the media?” Justice Venning said: “The question requires an answer. If the answer is the plaintiff does not know, then that should be recorded. The question is to be answered.”

This is in preparation for a full hearing due to start on 4 November.

Defendants are:

  • the former Minister of State Services, Paula Bennett
  • the former Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley
  • the State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes
  • the Attorney General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development
  • the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Brendan Boyle.

Peters was embarrassed by the overpayment and repaid it in 2017. His court action is airing it all again, and he is at risk of further embarrassment.

He filed court proceedings against Bennett and Tolley just before beginning coalition negotiations with National following the 2017 election.

Court decisions currently available publicly: