Peters drops leak accusations against Bennett, Tolley

It was obvious that all the Winston Peters accusations and litigation couldn’t stand up. He launched what was clearly a fishing expedition to try to expose the culprit.

Peters, via his lawyer Brian Henry’s closing address in court, has conceded that neither Paula Bennett nor Anne Tolley leaked information about his seven year superannuation overpayments.

Newsroom: Peters accepts National ministers didn’t leak

Winston Peters’ has accepted in the High Court that two former National ministers he had been suing for $450,000 for breaching his privacy were not the source of the leak or responsible for it.

In his closing submission today, Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry said both Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett denied in their evidence leaking information on Peters’ seven-year overpayment of superannuation – and the lawyer for the Ministry of Social Development and public servants did not challenge those denials.

“That left the MSD in the position that they now cannot avoid a finding that the breach was on MSD,” Henry said. “The plaintiff was expecting a challenge from MSD to the ministers, but the MSD has not challenged the evidence that they [the ministers] did not leak.

“That dual denial removed two of the options that the plaintiff, when it opened its case, was expecting to have examined in the court.”

That means Peters is no longer suing the National pair for damages.

This raises questions about Peters’ claims, and the cost he has inflicted on taxpayers to try to justify his accusations.

It also makes Barry Soper’s assertions that it must have been a National leak (with no evidence provided) look a bit silly.

Henry said Peters’ case was that under the tort of privacy he had a reasonable expectation that his private information would not be made public and what was disclosed had been highly offensive.

“In this case, the MSD exclusively held the plaintiff’s private information. Unless they can rebut the evidence there arises an evidential presumption.

“The larger the group [who had become aware in the ministry] the greater the foreseeability the matter would be leaked.

“The perpetrator will never front. Someone in MSD in full knowledge breached the plaintiff’s privacy and set off a chain of communications causing damage to his reputation.”

Henry said: “This is not likely to be a mistake.”

So he now asserts that someone in MSD leaked the information, but as there is no evidence suggests the assumption can be made. I don’t know how proof or lack thereof works in cases like this.

The ‘chain of communications’ led to journalists asking Peters about the overpayment, and Peters then went public himself. There is no certainty that media would have published the information. This is an interesting situation.

MSD lawyers claimed that Peters’ reputation hadn’t been affected by anyone but himself.

It is arguable that if Peters had just admitted making a mistake on his application and not noticing the overpayment, then paying it back when brought to his attention, then this would have blown over and would be virtually forgotten by now.

Instead Peters accused a swath of people for the leak with no evidence to back his claims, made assertions and denials that were inaccurate or wrong, filed legal action against National MPs just prior to going into coalition negotiations with National (I think without revealing the legal filing), and then proceeded with the case over the next two years.

Some have suggested he has simply enhanced negative aspects of his reputation.

There is a serious issue of the revealing of private information held by  Government department. That should have been investigated – although leaks are common and culprits are often not identified.

But the initial information Peters revealed himself, and revelations through the court hearings, have been self damaging more than anything.

As well as damages, Peters wants a declaration from the court that his privacy was breached.

The NZ First leader says it is necessary to have the tort of privacy recognise such a breach because in the digital world “the dissemination of [private] information is now in the hands of irresponsible persons… and politicians are not extremely vulnerable”.

At the end of his submissions, Henry clarified for the judge that Peters was now seeking the $450,000 in damages under his first course of action from all defendants together rather than seeking that sum from each.

That’s an odd switch. Maybe he realised Peters was seeking too much with Bennett and Tolley out of the firing line.

Questioned further by Justice Venning, he said the fact Bennett and Tolley could no longer be accepted as the source of the leaks meant that they could not continue to be included in the cause of action seeking that money. So the damages are sought, together, from Boyle, Hughes and MSD.

In three further causes of action, Peters is seeking declarations from the judge that his privacy was breached by the public servants in briefing their ministers and by the two ministers in accepting those briefings.

A challenge for the judge to address all of that.

A swipe at Kiwiblog fizzled:

Henry disputed a claim by Bruce Gray QC, for the ministers, that there had been no social media reports of Peters’ overpayment presented to the court that had occurred before Peters issued his press release announcing that news.

He pointed to a Kiwiblog posting about the risks for Peters if the overpayment news was correct. However he gave the court the date August 28 for the Kiwiblog comment, and that was actually the day after Peters issued his press release.

Whoops.

The only social media content appearing before Peters went public had been three tweets from the writer of this article about a possible major political story, and the tweets did not mention him, his party, gender, age or superannuation.

The writer had to provide a sworn statement in the earliest part of the proceedings and pointed out that intense speculation on Twitter had followed those tweets but that not one that was connected to his tweets had referred to or even hinted at Peters being involved.

The writer is Tim Murphy who has provided excellent coverage of the hearing.

Earlier, Victoria Casey QC for Hughes, Boyle and the ministry, said Peters’ pleading alleging bad faith by her clients would, if found to be so, be “catastrophic” for the officials. “If established, it would be the end of any career for them in the public service.

“It’s important that Mr Peters is held to his pleadings,” she said.

The bad faith accusation was raised by Peters in his fourth ‘statement in reply’ before the hearing began. “Mr Peters is not entitled to pursue new allegations of bad faith.”

(Henry later told the court he was saying officials had not acted in good faith rather than they had acted in bad faith. That was so those defendants had to disprove his claim rather than Peters having to prove ‘bad faith’.)

Justice Venning has reserved his decision, which he said was unlikely before the end of the year.

I expect he will want to take some time and care in writing his decision. I wonder how close to next year’s election campaign the decision will be released.


A (lawyer) comment from Kiwiblog (typos corrected):

I was astonished to read of Mr Henry’s concession that neither of Anne Tolley or Paula Bennett leaked anything.
If that is the case the claim against them will fail absolutely.

I would anticipate that Mr Gray will ask for judgement for Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett and that there be an order for costs against Mr Peters on an indemnity basis.

Yeah, costs. They could amount to a lot. Peters will be hoping to have costs warded in his favour for his remaining claims, but that my only balance out these costs.

Thinking about it, Peters was hardly likely to succeed in all of his claims, so was always going to be exposed to costs.

Winston Peters versus ministries and MPs nearing an end

The Winston Peters versus government ministries and heads of departments, and two National MPs, is nearing an end as closing addresses began yesterday.

There is no doubt that Peters’ privacy was breached, but despite Peters making serious allegations and insinuations there is no indication of solid evidence to back up any of his bluster. This looks to me like classic Peters – he has a long history of making accusations and not backing them up with evidence or substance.

Peters claims his reputation was damaged, which is rather ironic given the number of times he has tried to smear the reputations of others over the years, but his own disclosure to media of a seven year overpayment of his superannuation, and what has been revealed due to his own claims and actions in this case, are making it like more of an own goal.

Peters is finding that he can’t get away with bluster and bullshit in court like he has in politics for decades.

The case has proven that he has made false claims, in particular that MSD had conceded they made a mistake with his Super application form – it appears to have has been made clear in court that Peters made the mistake himself and signed in incomplete and inaccurate disclosure. For some reason he disclosed that he was married but separated, but he failed to disclose that he was living in a relationship with Jan Trotman. It was when Trotman applied for Super in 2017 that MSD became aware of the incorrect payments to Peters. They had asked for conformation from Peters that his details were correct in 2014, but he claims not to remember receiving the letter.

Despite all Peters’ insinuations and innuendo the case seems to have come down to whether it was proper for government departments to advise ministers under the ‘no surprises’ practice. Department heads have made it clear that the procedure was normal and proper, and also said that Peters’ claim there was a 3 month pre-election no disclosure period was not based on facts.

Newsroom – Expert surprised by Peters’ claims

Former top civil servant Sir Maarten Wevers has thrown doubt on three claims by Winston Peters that governing conventions were ignored by two chief executives who told National ministers about Peters’ superannuation overpayment.

Wevers, an expert witness called by the Crown defendants in the breach of privacy case brought by the NZ First leader, backed each of the two chief executives’ decisions and conduct in the affair – and told the High Court Peters was wrong on three claims he had made in court.

Wevers backed both Boyle’s decision to brief his minister, Anne Tolley, and Hughes’ decision to brief Paula Bennett.

“A high-profile, notable, and very public figure had received money through the state benefit system that he was not entitled to. That followed an error he had made on a statutory declaration he had made.

“The individual was a former Cabinet minister, sitting senior MP, leader of a political party.

“There were issues in play as to the integrity of the system,” Wevers said.

Boyle had not rushed to judgment, Wevers said, but consulted with the State Services Commission – whose advice was the appropriate “buttress” in such a situation between a department and minister. His briefing to Tolley met expectations and “given what was going on with Metiria Turei, this was a matter with potentially high public interest. “That was the context – if Mr Peters had become public, another MP had received money they were not entitled to.

“Ministers expect to be forewarned about this and to be assured that MSD had handled the matter appropriately and to defuse any suggestion there had been preferential treatment.”

Wevers said in his opinion Hughes’ briefing to Bennett had also been appropriate. “In the same position I would have taken the same course.”

That addresses (and opposes) the main claim by Peters in the case.

Newsroom – Words matter to these civil servants, Mr Peters

Journalists and opposing politicians seldom have the opportunity to precisely fact-check – with access to his documents – claims made by Winston Peters. But one government department has done it.

A Winston Peters interview on RNZ in August 2017 has featured repeatedly in his High Court privacy case.

Peters had denied, to RNZ, a report by Newsroom that he was billed $18,000 by the Ministry of Social Development for the seven-year overpayment, in an interview that also ran in a story on the Stuff website on August 28, 2017.

The MP said he repaid “way less” than $18,000 and then said it again:

“To say I repaid $18,000 is demonstrably false.”

He didn’t pay back $18,000. The court heard, first from Peters on day one and then repeatedly from others, that he repaid $17,936.43.

It was court evidence so is accepted as demonstrably true rather than his claim of “demonstrably false”.

In the same Stuff story, Peters made the following claims, all fact-checked by MSD in preparing for its officers’ time in the court-room. This interview was after he had looked into the problem, had it explained to him and received and paid the invoice for the debt he owed:

– Peters claimed the overpayment likely started in 2013/14. MSD staff and Peters confirmed in court it started on April 12, 2010, the day he applied for it.

– Peters said he had asked in 2017 to speak to the person who dealt with his case in 2010 but that person no longer worked there so couldn’t act as a witness. MSD witnesses told the court the staff member worked in 2017 at the same office, in the same role, and does so until this day. She gave evidence for MSD to defend Peters’ claim. An MSD witness denied Peters had asked her in 2017 if he could speak to that original case manager.

– Peters had said about his repayment: “The reality is a payment like that also attracts interest.” An MSD witness told the court she had seen this claim by Peters and it was wrong. The ministry never charged interest on debts it wanted repaid and no issue of financial penalties would arise unless fraud had been involved, which was not the case for Peters.

– Another MSD witness told the court she had seen in a media report in 2017 that Peters had claimed he had not received the full superannuation because his payment had been “abated”. She said no such abatement existed and the records back to 2010 showed he had been paid the full rate.

– Evidence from the official who dealt with Peters in 2017 said: “I remember reading in the media that Mr Peters was saying MSD had been unable to resolve how the mistake happened. That is not correct. It was very clear to me, which I communicated to Mr Peters in our meeting, that he had been paid the incorrect rate of superannuation as a result of his declaring at question 26 that he was in a relationship and completing the partner details accordingly. He had been paid in accordance with his declaration – as a single person.”

– A regional official said she was aware of Peters’ evidence that his application form was incomplete because he had not ticked a box on his current relationship status. “Based on all my service experience I do not consider the form is incomplete and I am not surprised it was processed in the form. The key information needed to determine Mr Peters’ relationship status was provided, i.e that he was separated.”

– Another official also challenged the claim MSD had made the original mistake. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times,” the case manager he dealt with in 2010 told the court. “It was hard to hear that I had made a mistake. I was upset because I knew this was not correct, but I had no way to defend myself.”

– Further, she said media reported Peters saying there appeared to have been an alteration on his application form and no one knew how it had been made. “Categorically, we do not alter forms,” she said.

– Two MSD officials recalled Peters having told media he had dealt, in 2010, with a “very senior” MSD official. The woman concerned told the court: “He referred to me as a very senior person at MSD. I definitely do not consider myself a very senior person at MSD. Case manager is hardly what I call very senior.”

Tim Murphy and Newsroom have been providing detailed coverage of the case (Murphy was originally included in the legal action).

In this story, they alleged Peters had made multiple errors on filling out his form, and dated his signature on it on a different day to that which he claimed. He has also cited in evidence an incorrect and irrelevant statistic about MSD cases involving relationship issues.

In this story, they challenged his claims over an MSD policy and a public service pre-election protocol.

In this story, the court heard three staff from the office at which he applied for super in 2010 would give evidence that Peters attended alone and his partner Jan Trotman was not there. Both the MP and Trotman gave evidence that she was there, but the three officials appeared later in the week and on oath repeated their firm belief that he had been alone at all times.

Yesterday final addresses began – Peters case: The dog that didn’t bark

The lawyer for Crown defendants in the Winston Peters superannuation leak court action says the NZ First leader’s evidence is like ‘The Case of the Dog that Didn’t Bark’.

Victoria Casey QC told the High Court at Auckland in her closing submission on day seven of the case that Peters had made sweeping allegations against the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the former chief executive of the MInistry of Social development and the ministry itself.but had not backed them up in court.

His statement of claim for damages over the leak of information in 2017 on his seven-year, $18,000 overpayment of national superannuation claimed the officials and department had acted in bad faith, but neither Peters’ evidence in court nor his lawyer’s cross examination of witnesses had attempted to confirm that.

The now Deputy Prime Minister claimed the disclosure of the overpayment information was for the purpose of salacious gossip and made deliberately to political opponents before the election but  he had not made the case for any of these central claims. “The plaintiff is required to prove his case,” Casey said.

“This case is, with respect to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the case of the dog that didn’t bark…. The silence is, with respect, resounding.”

Bruce Gray QC, closing for two former National ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett, who Peters is also suing for $450,000 in the breach of privacy case, told Justice Geoffrey Venning: “We have asked ourselves: ‘why are we here’? What is this case about?”

The lawyer said Peters had acknowledged in court he was more sensitive about privacy than many people and his desire for secrecy might have been the reason for his original failure to provide full information about his de facto relationship when applying for superannuation. “He did not feel it necessary to make disclosure of something he preferred” people not to know about him.

The MP had chosen to reveal to the public the fact of his overpayment and the MSD agreement that he should repay the $18,000. That was the reason it became known and had set the tone of media and public commentary. No other publication had occurred, Peters had provided zero evidence there had been ‘social media’ publications about him as he claimed and the fact two journalists had received anonymous calls did not mean a publication was imminent. The calls in themselves were not  evidence of serious harm to Peters.

He said Tolley and Bennett did not even get briefed on the extent of information provided to journalists by the leaker. “It seems they did not know there had been any suggestion at all that Mr Peters had lied, so could not have told anyone that.

“In any event the publication was not highly offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person. Mr Peters is not an objective reasonable person. He is more sensitive than average to privacy matters. His subjective views are not the test in this case.”

Gray told the court: “This proceeding is a defamation case in drag. We still do not know precisely what Mr Peters complains about.

Peters was seeking $450,000 from each defendant. “The plaintiff’s claim in this case is beyond extravagant and is further evidence for the genuine motivation for the proceeding,” Gray said.

“It is a shame this claim had to be made. It seems to arise from an inability to accept a mistake had been made, and a desire to punish.”

Victoria Casey QC, for the three Crown defendants, began her closing late in the day and will finish this morning.

She said: “Something happened that should not have happened. The fact that it did enter the public domain did not establish that the Crown defendants are liable at Common Law and MSD is not liable for unknown actions to the media.”

Peters had conducted the case in a way that made serious allegations about her clients in pleading but did not bring them up personally in evidence or in cross examination. She said to Justice Venning: “We do ask that you pay attention to who was asked what and more importantly who was not asked anything.”

The MP claimed  in the media in 2017 that senior officials had been part of a “cartel playing politics” and that “very senior politicians had been operating outside the law… in tandem with ministers.”

Casey said: “This is the case to which that privilege applied. This is the case where if Mr Peters had any foundation for these comments they should have been brought before the court. We have no evidence whatsoever about a cartel, a conspiracy and no questions to the ministers or chief executives about these claims.”

Despite all Peters’ public claims the case made at court against the Crown defendants seemed to come down to the decision the chief executives took to brief their ministers on the Peters situation after it had been resolved.

“There is no allegation pleaded or in evidence that the plaintiff [Peters] suffered damage from the briefings to ministers.”

In claiming that his reputation has been tarnished Peters himself has taken to court and called into question the reputations of MSD employees, department heads and two MPs.

It may turn out that he has enhanced his own reputation of a blusterer and bullshitter.

Anne Tolley’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit – Minister told husband, sister about Peters’ super

Former National minister Anne Tolley told her husband and her sister about Winston Peters being overpaid superannuation after she was briefed by the head of the Ministry of Social Development.

But most shots fired in court have been blanks or missed their mark.

Tolley and Bennett reject Peters’ claim that under the legal principle of ‘res ipsa loquitur’ or ‘let the thing speak for itself’, Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning should infer they disclosed the Peters’ information publicly.

Gray said: “They resist this. They say that neither of them disclosed the information.”

There has been no evidence produced of who disclosed the private information.

Newsroom – Two ministers and a drunken conspiracy

Could someone from the National Party, stressed, and slightly or heavily intoxicated have told journalist Barry Soper that news of Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayment was about to leak?

That was an implication from a series of questions from Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry in the High Court at Auckland today to former National minister Paula Bennett.

He did not ask Bennett if she was that person.

But when he asked her if she had a view on the “inference” which could be taken from Soper’s evidence on Tuesday that he had been told by someone from National, she answered:

“No. I’ve had many allegations made as to who may or may not have leaked this but I see no more validity in this than any other.”

Henry, who had called the NewstalkZB political editor Soper to give evidence under subpoena, said: “Someone told him about this coming scandal for Mr Peters. Someone he is leaving us to infer is from the National Party.”

It was in Bennett’s cross-examination that Henry, for Peters, suggested a National person had been Soper’s source.

Despite Soper declining in court to reveal that source, Henry told Bennett: “He had been told by a source that we are left to infer was from the National Party.”

Justice Geoffrey Venning interceded to say: “That’s your inference, I think, Mr Henry.”

In politics Peters is big on bark but often without evidence to back up allegations and innuendo and inference.

In court he has barely whimpered, and his lawyer Brian Henry has had a hard job inferring for him with a glaring lack of substance.

Perhaps the dog ate the evidence.

Defence closing submissions will conclude today, and will be followed by the closing submission by Peters’ lawyer.

Peters in court versus Government departments and National MPs next week

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

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

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

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

There are a number of bizarre aspects to all this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Swarbrick and Bennett debate legalisation of personal use of cannabis

On NZ Q&A last night Chlöe Swarbrick and Paula Bennett debated the legalisation of cannabis for personal use. This will be put to the public next year in a referendum.

Bennett seems to have changed her mind. In May she refused to debate Swarbrick – Cannabis referendum: Paula Bennett on why she won’t debate Chlöe Swarbrick

Last night:

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick argues it’s time to reduce the harm caused by a drug market controlled by criminals. National MP Paula Bennett says there isn’t enough evidence to support legalisation.

The Spinoff:  A play-by-play of Paula Bennett and Chlöe Swarbrick’s cannabis referendum debate on Q&A

…they’ve come head-to-head on the cannabis referendum, with heated exchanges on social media about the issue, and Paula’s reluctance/refusal (choose applicable given your generosity) to debate Swarbrick, the Green Party spokesperson for the issue.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I came into this expecting, and kind of wanting, an utter shitfight. Two politicians, on relatively opposing sides of an issue, on the television?

What I got was instead… an informed, low heat, debate about an issue that two politicians are informed about, are passionate about, and happen to be on opposite sides of. Which is really nice, and comforting to watch.

Sounds promising. I will watch the debate and read the Talking points at The Spinoff, who quote the final statements:

Chlöe Swarbrick:

“The point that I want to leave people with is that right now we have the worst possible situation. We are empowering the criminal underground and we know for a fact that 400,000 New Zealanders are using cannabis on an annual basis and 10% of New Zealanders will have tried cannabis by the time they’re 21. The majority of people will have been exposed to it while they’re at high school.

“We have the opportunity to have some kind of control over what is currently chaos and the best way to do that is to legally regulate cannabis and to ensure that we’re providing those wrap-around supports and that potential for the disruption in the supply chain with that duty of care imposed on those who are purchasing.”

Paula Bennett:

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our teens are all of a sudden going to stop consuming cannabis because we legalise it. They’ll still get it from the black market because they won’t be able to get it legally because they’ll be underage, and the harms and the dangers will still be there with them. There are real issues around impairment, drug driving, what it’ll mean.

“What I saw in Canada was that the 25 stores that were in one province were not enough, they were estimating going to 1000 within eight years because actually people have a right to have access to it. I’m not sure if I want that in New Zealand, I think we should wait, get more evidence from places like Canada and then debate it and decide as a country.”

Mallard sparks chaos and consternation, alleged Parliament predator stood down

Yesterday morning the Speaker Trevor Mallard sparked consternation when he said that the Francis report suggested there was a sexual predator in Parliament. There was widespread reaction in media, and behind the scenes party leaders Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges met with each other and with the Speaker. By the end of the day a staffer was stood down.

Stuff: Speaker Trevor Mallard believes bullying report alleges rapes in Parliament

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard says some allegations made to a review into bullying and harassment at Parliament amounted to rape.

Debbie Francis’ review included interviews with employees, past and present. Five reported sexual assault to her and all the allegations involved male on female violence. “Three of the alleged incidents disclosed to me in interviews were in my view extremely serious and some appeared to be part of a multi-year pattern of predatory behaviour,” she said.

Speaking to Radio NZ on Wednesday, Mallard said his impression from the report was that one person was involved in the three extremely serious incidents.

“I don’t know that this is an MP, and if it’s not an MP then it will be the Parliamentary Service, of Office of the Clerk, or Ministerial Services chief executives who will be the individuals who will take leadership.” Mallard said he hoped any one involved in such an incident would go to the police or Rape Crisis, or other support agencies.

“We’re talking about serious sexual assault. Well that, for me, that’s rape,” Mallard said.

Asked if people had been raped in Parliament, he said: “that is the impression I get from the report, yes.” The impression he had was that It happened within the past 4½ years.

“Clearly it’s an intolerable situation.”

A number of people spoke up about how intolerable they thought the situation was.

One pointed claim on social media was that if there was a suspected murder or drug pusher loose in Parliament the police would be called in immediately.

1 News: Paula Bennett calls for police to be involved ‘immediately’ over alleged rapist at Parliament

Speaking to media later this morning after the Mallard interview on Breakfast Ms Bennett said there was a “duty of care to people working in this place that police are involved immediately”.

“There are people here feeling unsafe, uncomfortable and nervous at the moment, particularly after the Speaker’s comments this morning.”

“In light of the Speaker’s comments this morning about there being alleged sexual assault and rape happening for staff members and others on premises here in Parliament…. I think there is a duty of care for Debbie Francis and the Speaker to have police involved immediately so those allegations can be followed up and the safety of people working here be put first.”

“They have a responsibility to make sure if there is someone here that has alleged criminal activity, this is not just a bit of inappropriate behaviour, the Speaker is alleging a very serious criminal act, I’m not convinced that everything is being done that should be.”

RNZ: Politicians respond to Parliament rape claims

Political party leaders held a meeting with Speaker Trevor Mallard this afternoon, following his comments to RNZ this morning that he believed there was a rapist on the premises.

After the meeting, Jacinda Ardern said she was very concerned when she heard Mr Mallard’s comments on Wednesday morning.

“We have to ensure that the people who work with us are working in a safe place,” Ms Ardern said.

“Ultimately that’s the job of the Speaker.

Labour MP and party whip Kiri Allan had said after the meeting if there were allegations of rape then police should be involved.

She said discussions were held between Labour female MPs and “there will be further action taken by our leadership”.

Police Minister Stuart Nash said if the allegations of rape were true then it was very serious.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said if the allegation of rape was substantiated then “it’s right for the appropriate action to be taken”.

The Green Party co-leader James Shaw said he couldn’t talk about the meeting with the Speaker and other party leaders but said Mr Mallard had assured them that he’d taken “immediate steps to secure the campus”.

A bizarre report: Winston Peters says alleged Parliamentary rapist is not MP, staffer

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says the alleged serial sexual offender at Parliament is not an MP or Parliamentary staffer.

“It is not a parliamentarian and it is not a parliamentary staffer – that’s number one – all the parties are clear on this matter,” Peters said on Wednesday.

“You just can’t go out and have an allegation where everybody’s now under scrutiny when none of them should have been.”

When asked what that’s based on, Peters said: “It’s based on going and finding out, because I wasn’t prepared to hear what I heard this morning.”

Peters appears to have been wrong.

By late afternoon (RNZ): Parliamentary service staffer stood down after sexual assault allegation

Speaker Trevor Mallard said a female staff member came forward following his interview with RNZ where he said he believed there was a rapist on the premises.

The woman made a complaint to the Parliamentary Service general manager and the matter is now an employment investigation.

“I don’t want to cut across any employment or possible police investigations, but I am satisfied that the Parliamentary Service has removed a threat to the safety of women working in the Parliamentary complex.

“Because the matter is now under investigation as opposed to being part of a review, it’s not appropriate into further detail,” Mr Mallard said.

Parliamentary Services said the alleged incident had been previously investigated but, after a direct approach from the complainant to the newly appointed GM of the Service, Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, he reopened the investigation today.

It said the original investigation was not into allegations of rape.

RNZ:  Speaker accepts some responsibility for chaotic way rape allegations emerged

Mr Mallard said he accepted it would have been better had the day not played out as it did.

“I have some responsibility for that, and I accept it. The main thing now is to minimise the further trauma that was caused.”

He has urged anyone who has been assaulted to go to the police or Parliamentary Service.

So a clumsy start to the day by Mallard, followed by chaos, but sort of sorted out in the end.

There was probably no tidy or easy way of dealing with this. At least what Mallard started precipitated fairly rapid action.

 

 

Bennett refuses to appear alongside Swarbrick in cannabis discussion

National deputy leader Paula Bennett has refused to appear alongside Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick on Q&A last night to discuss the cannabis referendum. This is a continuation of Bennett, National’s ‘Spokesperson for Drug Reform’, refusing to take part in drug reform discussions.

This is extraordinary arrogance (that an opposition MP can ill afford), or fear of being shown up by Swabrick, who is very well informed on cannabis issues. Bennett has a habit of misrepresenting cannabis information, and scaremongering.

This isn’t the first time that Bennett has refused to discuss cannabis issues with Swarbrick. She has repeatedly  has refused to join a cross party group dealing with cannabis law reform.

 

I think that’s a fair response from Swarbrick.

It turns out that Andrew Little is going to lead the cross-party group, but National made a different excuse to not take part.

More on this from Stuff in National Party won’t commit to enacting result of 2020 cannabis referendum:

National Party leader Simon Bridges said his party cannot commit to enacting the result of the 2020 cannabis referendum if elected as he has not seen the draft bill yet.

Sort of fair enough on this. But…

“I would need to see the law and I would need to have answers to some basic questions like: What’s the tax rate going to be? Will gangs be able legally to sell drugs in New Zealand? Will edible gummy bears be legal?” Bridges said.

“Of course I trust the public, it’s the Government I don’t trust.”

This is nonsense. The public will vote on whatever the Government produces in their draft bill. Bridges is effectively saying he wouldn’t trust the decision made by voters who get a chance to judge the draft bill for themselves.

Bennett has rejected invitations from Green spokeswoman on drug reform Chloe Swarbrick to join this group in the past.

She said today she would be happy to join if it was led by a minister.

“I just don’t see how with all respect a junior member of Parliament that is not part of Government is the spokesperson on drug reform which could change the social fabric of this country,” Bennett said.

“If they are serious about cross-party, put a cabinet minister in there and I will happily sit with them and any other member of Parliament,” Bennett said.

If Bennett was serious about contributing to drug law reform she would have been contributing to the cross-party group already.  It sounds like excuses from her – and the excuses keep changing.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed he would be leading the group.

Bennett still did not commit to joining the group.

“We will want to see terms of reference and what the group will be doing before deciding,” Bennett said.

This is a very disappointing attitude from Bennett and National. Their petty arrogance in Opposition, and their apparent determination to disrupt drug reform initiatives, is likely to hurt their support amongst the all important floating voters.

Leaked Cabinet paper on cannabis referendum ‘out of date’

A Cabinet Paper detailing cannabis law reform referendum options has been leaked to the National Party (who insist on misnaming the drug) just before the issue will be considered by Cabinet, but Green MP Chloe Swarbrick says that it is out of date.

National: Cabinet Paper shows NZ not ready for (cannabis) referendum

A Cabinet Paper leaked to National which will be considered by the Government tomorrow shows New Zealand will head into the recreational marijuana referendum with many unanswered questions, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“Cabinet will tomorrow consider four different options for the referendum but no matter which option it choses, there are huge holes.

“The Cabinet Paper is clear that smoking marijuana when you’re under the age of 25 is detrimental for development of the brain, and yet it recommends that the legal age should be 20. The legal age seems to have been plucked out of thin air.

“The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25-years-old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services.

“Only one of the options being considered will give New Zealanders some certainty about what they’re voting for – the other options will mean a huge lack of information.

“Every option takes us straight to legalisation instead of decriminalisation. Many other countries consider decriminalisation first before leaping straight to legalisation.

“National understands that as usual with this Government, the coalition has been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they will choose has been holding up the process.

“The problem with that is there isn’t time for yet more coalition disagreements on an issue this important.”

The 2020 Cannabis Referendum proposals outline four options including;

  • A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
  • A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;
  • A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.
  • A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.

A leak of a Cabinet paper is rare and serious, and national are playing it hard.

Paula Bennett has been invited a number of times to work together with Government parties on cannabis law reform, but National has chosen to try to spoil and disrupt the issue as much as possible, in this case aided by a leak.

It’s very disappointing if Cabinet are seriously considering any but the last of the above options.

It’s also disappointing to see National trying to make a mess of the issue. Paula Bennett has handled this appallingly, presumably with the approval of Simon Bridges.

Labour, NZ First and National are all at risk of letting the majority of New Zealanders who support cannabis law reform down by playing petty politics and possible trying to get out of fronting up properly on this issue.

If Labour yet again fails on a key policy due to not getting NZ First support, and if National mess things up by not working positively on this, then they will piss a lot of people off.

Half arsed apology, Ardern ‘reins in’ MPs, but Willie Jackson ‘hits back’

Labour list MP Willie Jackson remains defiant despite a half arsed apology, after he was criticised for questioning how Māori Paula Bennett is. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reported to have reined him in, but instead Jackson has ‘hit back’.

For background see Labour Maori versus Paula Bennett continues.

Jaskson was interviewed on RNZ yesterday morning where he apologised to those who he may have offended (that is, a half arsed insincere apology) – Jackson sorry for offence after Māori comments (audio):

Employment Minister Willie Jackson has sparked a heated debate about which MPs are allowed to identify as Maori. Mr Jackson called National MP Paula Bennett’s heritage into question, saying she doesn’t know from one day to the next whether she’s Maori. National’s Paula Bennett says she’s identified as Maori since she was born, and the comments made in the House went too far.

Jacinda Ardern got involved – Prime Minister reins in MPs over attacks on Paula Bennett’s Māori heritage

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reined in two of her Ministers for getting personal about Paula Bennett’s Māori heritage.

A very public slanging match erupted this week when three senior Māori members of the coalition government went on the attack against the National Party deputy leader and her whakapapa.

Mrs Bennett described it as a “racist attack” and out of sync with Ms Ardern’s attempts to make Parliament a kinder place.

She said the rhetoric from senior Māori Ministers doesn’t gel at all with what Ms Ardern has been saying she wants to change about politics.

“So we have a prime minister who is constantly saying that she wants to change the way that Parliament is and how Parliamentarians treat each other, and she now has senior Māori ministers going out there and categorising other MPs as not being Māori enough, and I don’t think that gels at all with the kind of Parliament that she’s trying to create,” Mrs Bennett said.

The comments spilled into Question Time on Thursday when Mrs Bennett bit back using Mr Jackson’s Mana in Mahi youth employment programme to ask him whether you needed Māori-sounding surname to participate or would he be telling people with the name Bidois that they should go back to Italy.

That prompted deputy prime minister Winston Peters to go into bat for Mr Jackson.

Then Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare also joined in.

Mr Jackson walked back his comments somewhat on RNZ this morning, saying his point was that Mrs Bennett didn’t support National MPs like Nuk Korako who do contribute to kaupapa Māori.

“Of course she’s Māori, I’ve never said that she’s not Māori. I said in Question Time yesterday that she whakapapa’s Māori, how you identify with being Māori is by your whakapapa – is Paula Māori? One hundred percent.

“So she’s twisted this and spun it and she’s got away from the real deal here, which is her reluctance and her non-support of a tremendous Māori MP who has advocated kaupapa Māori and te reo Māori everyday,” Mr Jackson said.

Jackson is the one twisting things. More about that soon.

“I think the point he raised was valid and raised in only the way Willie can. And my experience and upbringing tells me whakapapa certainly is one thing but if we look at what makes a Māori through a Pakeha lense then we’re only looking at either a classification or a blood quantum and what i’m saying is that is one part of it but there’s so much more to being a Māori,” Mr Henare told Radio Waatea.

This is disappointing from Henare. Surely being Māori is different for different people, and so it should be.

The Prime Minister has had to go into damage control.

A spokesperson said while the Prime Minister understood her MPs’ desire to hold all members to account on the work they do for their local communities, she has an expectation that this doesn’t become personal.

The Prime Minister didn’t respond to questions about whether she had spoken to her ministers and what message she had passed on.

So despite the headline there is no sign of Ardern reining in anyone.

And Jackson is not acting reined in. He posted at The Daily Blog yesterday: Willie Jackson hits back

Well what a busy last couple of days I’ve had in the House. Yesterday after supporting International Worker’s Day (May Day), I decided to attack the Māori MPs in National in my General Debate.

The main reason I did that was because they have showed very little support for a fine man and good Māori advocate, Nuk Korako, who resigned because he was basically sick and tired of the zero support he would get for Māori issues.

I called some of the National MPs useless and singled out Jo Hayes, Simon Bridges, Dan Bidois and Paula Bennett – I make no apologies for calling them useless. When you’re in the Chamber, particularly in the General Debate, it’s all on and you take no prisoners. That’s how it’s always been and you can either handle it or not.

That’s not how it’s always been for all MPs, Some like Jackson seem to think it gives them licence to launch over the top attacks, but most MPs manage to not launch outlandish attacks.

She is trying to spin the line that I don’t think she’s Māori which is not what I said in my speech – I said some days she’s Māori and some days she’s not, and that’s an undeniable fact.

What Jacksons thinks Bennett may think on a day to day basis is obviously not factual, it’s his opinion. He can’t know how she thinks.

And what he claims he said in Parliament is inaccurate. He said” Paula Bennett, well, she doesn’t know if she’s a Māori, some day’s she does and some days she doesn’t”.

Again, not facts, just assertions, he cannot know  what he claimed.

“has she ever advocated for Māori; has she ever taken a pro-Māori stance or a Kaupapa Māori stance – and the answer to that is unequivocally no.”

I think that that claim is unequivocally false.

The National Government that Paula Bennett was a part of took a number of pro-Māori stances. Leading ‘significant policies’ at Fifth National Government of New Zealand (Wikipedia):

Treaty of Waitangi/Settlements

The involvement of the National government within this particular area was seen through their approach in settlements. National government’s involvement of Treaty affairs:

  • Ngai Tuhoe deed of settlement[1]

These involved discussion and planning of guidelines which were negotiated with two significant iwis of Taranaki. This also involved Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Christopher Finlayson.

  • Apology to affiliate Te Arawa[2]

In relation to past Treaty breaches and the actions of the previous governments at the time of the land wars. John Key apologized for the actions and doings of the abuses to the Te Arawa iwi and hapu.

  • Negotiation with Te Atiawa and Taranaki iwi[3]

Through the nine years of government Key/English/Bennett worked with the Māori Party on many policies, bills and initiatives advocating for Māori interests.

Māori Party: OUR ACHIEVEMENTS (Just some of our achievements from October 2008 to June 2017)

The Māori Party has influenced more than $3 billion for kaupapa Māori initiatives and almost $3 billion for all New Zealanders.

They detail a number of achievements while in Government with National. They could only have done that with the support of National, including the support of Bennett.

I’m not a fan of Bennett, but I think that Jackson is wide of the mark with these ongoing attacks on her. Also Peters (not surprising from him) and Henare (I thought he was better than this).

In particular, it’s getting dirty questioning someone else’s ethnicity, whakapapa, and their authenticity. Bennett is correct saying this is a form of racism.

 

Labour Maori versus Paula Bennett continues

Yesterday I posted about Labour list MP Willie Jackson’s slagging off of the Māoriness of Paula Bennett and other National MPs in Parliament on Wednesday – “You have useless Māoris”.

Bennett followed up in Question Time in Parliament yesterday:

8. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Employment: Does he stand by his approach to Mana in Mahi, and how many Māori participants are involved in the Mana in Mahi programme?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): To answer the first part of the question, yes, I stand by the approach that this Government has taken, which is to deliver Mana in Mahi in a phased approach. To answer the second part of the question, a total of 143 clients have been placed in Mana in Mahi so far. Of these participants, 75 have identified as Māori—52 percent.

Hon Paula Bennett: Well, how does he determine whether the Māori in the Mana in Mahi programme are Māori enough to be counted?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Well, that’s easy—that’s easy. It’s a well-known fact in this country that if you acknowledge your whakapapa Māori, you can be part of the setup. It’s a little bit unlike when the National Party used to measure Māori by half-castes and by how much of a percentage you had. We brought in this rule that if you whakapapa to Māori, like the good member does over there, then you’re Māori.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he respect Māori participating in Mana in Mahi regardless of their background or skin colour, or, as he ascertained yesterday in this House, whether or not he thinks they’re Māori on that day or not?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I think the member might be talking about herself. The reality is that I have total respect for Māori, whether they speak the language, whether they were brought up in a Pākehā environment, Asian environment. If they choose to whakapapa to Māori, like the good member, I respect her and any other Māori.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister what happens when your discovery of whakapapa Māori is rather like Columbus’ discovery of America—purely by accident?

So Winston Peters has joined in the attack.

Hon Paula Bennett: Do the Māori in the Mana in Mahi programme need a Māori-sounding surname to participate, or will he be telling people with names like the name Bidois that they should go back to Italy?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I mean, these types of silly questions are not necessary. The reality is, and the member should know, that a general debate is a general debate, so get over it.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he expect, then, men in the Mana in Mahi programme to tell women, like he did yesterday, that they are useless while they’re working?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I take offence at that. I just said that some of the Māori MPs in National were useless, like that member.

 

Later yesterday NZ Herald:  National’s Paula Bennett says comments calling into question her Māori heritage were ‘racist’

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett says she found comments made by a minister in the House yesterday, questioning her Māori heritage, racist.

Yesterday, in a speech during Parliament’s general debate, Minister of Employment and Associate Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson took aim at the Māori members of the National Party.

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett says she found comments made by a minister in the House yesterday, questioning her Māori heritage, racist.

Yesterday, in a speech during Parliament’s general debate, Minister of Employment and Associate Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson took aim at the Māori members of the National Party.

“The reality is that I have total respect for Māori, whether they speak the language, whether they were brought up in a Pākehā environment, Asian environment. If they choose to whakapapa to Māori, like the good member, I respect her and any other Māori,” he told the House.

Speaking to media on his way out of Question Time, NZ First Leader – and Deputy Prime Minister – Winston Peters said Bennett’s claim that Jackson was being racist was “ridiculous”.

He also said the press gallery should “get a sense of humour” when pressed on the issue.

So attacks by Jackson and Peters are ‘humour’? That’s an old (and badly flawed) excuse.

MP for Tāmaki Makaurau and Whānau Ora and Youth Minister Peeni Henare backed Jackson this afternoon.

In his view “blood quantum simply isn’t enough” when it comes to being Māori.

“I’ve always felt that you have to reach a threshold of need, participation and contribution in Māori Kaupapa. If you don’t, of course, questions are going to be raised.”

He said he was “more than happy” for those questions to be raised of anybody who claims to be Māori who does not meet that threshold.

https://twitter.com/PeeniHenare/status/1123853652890935297

Jackson has long been provocative, but it’s different (and disappointing) seeing an MP like Henare joining him in this slanging match.

It is sad to see the Labour MPs using Māoriness as a political weapon.

Tova O’Brien:  Willie Jackson, Paula Bennett locked in fierce racism row

And no matter which side you’re on, it’s an ugly row. Racism, whether it’s actual or perceived, has no place in Parliament – or New Zealand.

I wonder where Jacinda Ardern stands on this? Or is she as powerless and impotent with the Labour Māori caucus as she is with Winston Peters and Shane Jones?

“You have useless Māoris”

A Labour list MP attacked National Māori MPs in Parliament yesterday. A non-Māori person could not have made this speech without being damned widely.

I want everyone to tell Simon today, the Māori support him in Labour. He’s got our full support. Peeni Henare, has offered to do a waiata for him. Willow-Jean Prime will help him with his reo, because it’s so tragic. We will support Simon, even though the National Party won’t.

Look, I understand most of the Māori in the National Party are useless. We understand that—apart from our good man, Nuk Korako, who’s going today. What a good man, sad he’s being [Interruption] it’s so sad he’s being booted out of the National Party because he supports tino rangatiratanga and the Māori in Labour.

So the only good ones in there: Nuk; Shane Reti because he delivered Peeni Henare’s babies; and Harete Hipango.

That’s about it, the rest are useless. Paula Bennett, well, she doesn’t know if she’s a Māori, some day’s she does and some days she doesn’t; Dan Bidois, he needs to go back to Italy; and Jo Hayes, Jo wouldn’t have a clue. A great example of that with Jo was when she did her whānau ora attack on us and failed miserably…

So I want to say to the National Party today, who are split and divided, yes, you have useless Māoris, apart—but the good one is going today, one of the best is going today, Nuk Korako. However, we’re backing Simon. Please get that message to him, because he’s desperate. We saw him today. He’s desperate there, grovelling for more support, shocking the way he was insulting us. But he’s from Ngāti Maniapoto, I’m from Ngāti Maniapoto, and I’m obliged to help him. Kia ora tātou.

That speech should be seen as disgraceful from anyone. And while Willie Jackson may have delivered it without any sign of shame, it should have embarrassed his Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

In particular, questioning a person’s Maoriness was condemned.