Peters responds to court dismissal of claims over privacy breach

On Monday Winston Peters claims for damages and declarations against five defendants, including two MPs (Ministers at the time of Peters’ Super over payment leak) and two Government Department heads were dismissed by Venning J in the High Court due to no evidence identifying who was responsible for the leak.

Peters has responded via Statement From Rt. Hon. Winston Peters – New Zealand First Leader

Winston Peters has acknowledged the ruling by Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning.

“Every New Zealand citizen is entitled to their privacy. This case has caused considerable stress. “It is seriously welcome to see that Justice Venning confirmed that this was a deliberate and malicious breach of privacy done with the intent to damage my reputation and cause harm.

“This was always going to be a difficult case because as the decision points out despite evidence of malicious behaviour we had to prove who did it. Our values, human rights and democracy have privacy as their foundation stone. On this matter the decision of the court was very encouraging.

“While we are disappointed we could not prove who deliberately leaked that data, the ruling makes clear MSD contributed to the error. We hope that MSD reflect on their role in this matter. As the holder of extraordinary amounts of individuals data, it is paramount they take appropriate steps to safeguard New Zealanders’ privacy.

Justice Venning ruled:

  • This was a deliberate breach of his privacy with the intention of publicly embarrassing him and causing him harm.”
  • “the person(s) who provided the information to the media did so deliberately and it seems, at least in relation to dealing with Newshub, did so maliciously and with intent to damage Mr Peters’ reputation by referring to him as “lying” when he applied for NZS as single.”
  • Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private and not disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it. In particular, he had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

This looks to be a reasonable concession and summary of the judgment.

There have been some suggestions Peters may appeal but there is no sign of that in this statement.

But it isn’t over yet – costs are still to be determined. From the judgment:

Costs are reserved. If counsel are unable to agree, costs will be dealt with on the papers.

Costs are usually awarded against unsuccessful litigants, but this is an unusually case – the defences were funded by the Government/taxpayer, and they were substantial.

1 News: Winston Peters urged to reimburse taxpayers the $1.2 million spent on his legal fees for failed privacy lawsuit

1 NEWS can reveal taxpayers forked out more than $1.2 million defending those Mr Peters accused.

The figure comes after senior National Party politicians and Government officials stood accused of leaking Mr Peters’ superannuation overpayments to the press.

The Deputy Prime Minister paid his own lawyer but taxpayers footed the bill for the defence according to Crown Law.

That’s a huge cost for a case that fell over on no evidence of who was responsible for the leak.

Paula Bennett:

“I had no idea it was high as $1.2 million. I think he should be having a really good look at having to pay that back to taxpayers – when on all counts he has failed.

1 News also asked a handful of people on the streets of Wellington what they thought but that means next to nothing.

However, Victoria University legal expert Eddie Clark thinks the case was important.

“It’s something that should worry all of us, it could be our information being leaked to ministers or given to ministers and mysteriously finding its way to the media,” he said.

Clark doesn’t sound very expert on the case, the judgment found that ministers were legitimately given the information, and there was no evidence that the leak happened via the ministers.  It could have leaked out of at least two Government departments, or from Peters or whoever he may have told (that seems very unlikely).

Also Paula Bennett says Winston Peters should stump up for Crown’s legal costs over failed court action

Bennett and Peters have been feuding politically for years.

Peters suffered breach of privacy but failed to identify who was responsible

The High Court (Venning J) has released a decision that found that Winston Peters had his privacy breached, but in court proceedings he failed to identify who was responsible, despite accusing a number of MPs and public servants. Therefore his claims for damages and declarations have been dismissed

There has also been a substantial cost to the taxpayers who paid for the defendants, but Peters may now have to pay costs (decision reserved).

Plaintiff: Winston Peters

First Defendant: Paula Bennett
Second Defendant: Peter Hughes (State Services Commissioner)
Third Defendant: Anne Tolley
Fourth Defendant: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL sued on behalf of the MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Fifth Defendant: Brendan Boyle (chief executive of the MSD)

Introduction: 

[1] The Right Honourable Winston Peters claims the defendants have breached his privacy.

[2] In April 2010, Mr Peters applied for and was granted New Zealand Superannuation (NZS) by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). Mr Peters was paid NZS at the single rate. In May 2017, Mr Peters’ partner, Ms Trotman, applied for NZS. In the course of processing her application, MSD reviewed Mr Peters’ file. The review raised the question of why he was being paid NZS at the single rate when he had a partner. An MSD officer met with Mr Peters in July 2017. It was agreed Mr Peters had been overpaid NZS as he was not single and had a partner, Ms Trotman, at the time he was granted NZS. Mr Peters immediately arranged for the overpayment to be repaid.

[3] In the meantime, in June 2017, Mr Boyle, the chief executive of the MSD, had disclosed the overpayment and the MSD investigation into it (the payment irregularity) to the State Services Commission (SSC).

[4] On 31 July 2017, Mr Boyle also briefed Ms Tolley, the Minister of Social Welfare at the time, about the payment irregularity. On 1 August 2017, Mr Hughes, the State Services Commissioner, briefed Ms Bennett, the Minister for State Services at the time.

[5] An unknown source disclosed the payment irregularity to the media by anonymous calls to reporters between 23 and 25 August 2017. On one occasion the source alleged Mr Peters had lied when applying for NZS.

[6] On 26 August 2017, Lloyd Burr, a journalist approached Mr Peters. Mr Burr made it clear he had knowledge of the payment irregularity. To mitigate the damage to him personally and politically, particularly in the context of a general election due to be held on 23 September 2017, Mr Peters issued a press statement the next day. Over the next weeks and even months, a number of news items followed in which the payment irregularity and Mr Peters’ situation were discussed further.

The claim

[7] Mr Peters says that the public disclosure of the payment irregularity was a breach of his right to privacy. He says the defendants had a duty to keep the details of the payment irregularity confidential. In disclosing the payment irregularity to others Mr Peters says the defendants breached that duty.3 He seeks declaratory relief and damages.

Some points of interest.

[24] While Ms S should have picked up that question 26 had not been properly or adequately answered and the form was incomplete, Mr Peters must also bear some responsibility for the resultant ambiguity in the form as completed and the consequent issues that arose. To the left-hand side of question 26 is the definition of partner. If Mr Peters had read that definition, it would have been clear, given that Ms Trotman was his partner, that he should have completed the primary question in question 26 and answered it by ticking “Yes”.

[30] There was one further relevant event that occurred before Ms Trotman made her application for superannuation in May 2017. On 18 March 2014, the MSD sent a standard letter to Mr Peters which included a request that asked him to check the following details:

Relationship Status: You are single.
Your living situation: You are not living alone.

[31] Mr Peters did not respond to the letter. He has no recollection of it but accepts he would have received it. He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances. He took the view that there had been no change in his circumstances since the 2010 interview. While Mr Peters’ details had not changed, the letter expressly set out that the MSD’s records of Mr Peters’ relationship status was that he was single. That was incorrect. If Mr Peters had paid more attention to the letter, he would have realised there was an issue with the MSD’s records regarding his initial application.

There seems to be a contradiction here. “He has no recollection of it” but “He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances. He took the view that there had been no change in his circumstances since the 2010 interview.”

I don’t now he could have taken an understanding from a letter and taken a view on a letter he had no recollection of. This sounds odd to me.

[75] With respect to Mr Soper, his evidence that, in his opinion, the information was deliberately leaked as an attempt by Mr Peters’ political opponents to damage his credibility and to do what the Prime Minister wanted, which was “to cut out the middleman”, namely NZ First, is speculative. It is not the opinion of an expert based on established fact. Without direct evidence of the original source of the disclosure, Mr Soper’s opinion is speculative. Mr Soper’s opinion that it must have been a political opponent (and inferentially) someone from the National Party or a National Party supporter lacks a proven factual basis. It does not satisfy the requirement for admissibility as expert opinion evidence. Even if it was generally correct that the disclosure was politically motivated, it may not have been disclosed, for example, by a National Party member or supporter. It could also have been disclosed by a Green Party supporter aggrieved at the public backlash against Ms Turei following her disclosure of fraud.

[76] None of the journalists, including Mr Soper, were prepared to disclose their sources. They invoked the protection of s 68(1) Evidence Act. I was not asked to make an order under s 68(2) and was not in any event, provided with evidence to satisfy me that the criteria in that subsection were satisfied.

[108] Mr Peter’s reasonable expectation that the payment irregularity would be kept private must be contextual. It is not absolute. It must take into account that there are some parties who it was necessary or appropriate to disclose the information to. As noted, that includes a number of people within the MSD involved directly in the review and investigation. It also extends to disclosure to the chief executive of the MSD and from him to the chief executive of the SSC as Mr Henry conceded in opening.

[117] In summary, on the first point, I accept that Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it, and certainly had a reasonable expectation that the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

[125] In summary, I remain of the view that it would be highly offensive to deliberately disclose details of the payment irregularity to the media.

[141] Mr Peters seeks to overcome his evidential difficulty in identifying who disclosed his private information concerning the payment irregularity to members of the media on 23 and 25 August 2017 by reliance on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

[143] Res ipsa loquitur, literally “the facts speak for themselves”, is a rule of evidence. Res ipsa loquitur generally arises in the context of negligence but is not restricted to that. In the Canadian case of Royal Bank of Canada v Boussoulas, for example, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice accepted it could apply to fraud where fraud was the only consistent explanation for the facts proven.

[148] There are a number of possible explanations as to how the details of the payment irregularity were disclosed to the media. While it is possible the disclosure was politically motivated, it could have been made by members of either of the other major parties, (at that time neither of them knew who Mr Peters and NZ First might support) or even a disaffected NZ First supporter disappointed in a perceived failing by Mr Peters. Further, a supporter of the Green Party or of Ms Turei who considered she had been treated harshly by the media could have been the source of disclosure to the media.

[149] That is the fundamental difficulty for Mr Peters’ reliance on res ipsa loquitur. The doctrine is not applicable where the plaintiff cannot identify the defendant…

[153] In summary, there are a number of elements to Mr Peters’ claim against Ms Bennett and Ms Tolley but they come down to the following key points. First, that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private. For the reasons given above, I accept that has been established to the extent that he had a reasonable expectation it would only be disclosed to those persons who had a proper interest or genuine need to know. I also accept that public disclosure would be considered highly offensive by a reasonable objective person. Again, for the reasons above, I agree that disclosure of the payment irregularity to the media with the intention it be made publicly available would be considered offensive to a reasonable objective person.

[154] Mr Peters’ pleaded case against the first and third defendants is based on the reasoning that the first and third defendants were members of a political party opposed to Mr Peters so that the information must have been leaked by them to persons who disclosed it to the media. But Mr Henry did not pursue that case directly in closing submission. He cannot rely on res ipsa loquitur to make it out.

So Peters failed in his accusations against Bennett and Tolley – he had no evidence they were responsible for the leak.

[168] The declaratory relief sought is based on the same pleaded facts as the claim for damages. With the exception of Ms Tolley’s unguarded comment to her sister, the disclosures made by the first and third defendants were either made for proper purposes or to persons who had a genuine need to know about the payment irregularity. Ms Tolley was not challenged on her evidence regarding her reason for discussing the matter with her husband and, given the brief and very general nature of the comment made to her sister, I decline to make any such declaration.

[169] The plaintiff’s claim against the first and third defendants on the first and fourth causes of action fails.

[176] I accept Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that details of the payment irregularity would be kept private, to the extent that it would not be disclosed except for a proper purpose or to parties who did not have a genuine need to know and that it would not be disclosed to the media. But that does not support Mr Peters’ claim that the MSD and Mr Boyle should have kept it private if that is to be taken to mean to not disclose it at all…

[181] Mr Peter’s cannot identify the source of the leak to the media. He cannot say whether it originated from an MSD team member or one of the persons who later obtained the information through the Ministers’ offices. He is left with his reliance on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in his case against the fourth defendant, sued on behalf of the MSD. But for the reasons expressed above, the doctrine does not assist the plaintiff…

[231] Sir Maarten confirmed that, contrary to Mr Peters’ suggestion, in his experience, whether it was appropriate to brief a Minister did not depend on the Department requiring the assistance of the Minister or of Cabinet. Sir Maarten had not heard of or applied the criteria Mr Peters referred to. I note they are not referred to in the Cabinet Manual. As Ms Casey submitted, the process Mr Peters suggested was not a convention. None of the other Crown witnesses were aware of its application. Neither of the Ministers at the time were familiar with it. I accept the defence evidence on that point.

Peters was wrong about convention of briefing Ministers.

[236] In summary, for the above reasons and in the particular circumstances of this case, Mr Peter’s general allegations against the fourth defendant sued on behalf of the MSD cannot succeed as the plaintiff cannot rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to overcome his inability to prove that the source of the leak was a MSD member. I also accept that the second and fifth defendants were justified in disclosing the payment irregularity and Mr Peters’ identity to the Ministers when they briefed them on the ‘no surprises’ basis. In the particular circumstances of this case, the Ministers had a proper interest in knowing Mr Peters had been overpaid NZS, that the MSD had investigated it and that he had been treated the same as any other person would be in the circumstances. The plaintiff’s claim under the first cause of action against the Crown defendants fails.

[245] The allegation that the disclosure had no purpose but to disclose the payment irregularity to a political opponent is also not made out. The evidence is clear the disclosure within the MSD and to Mr Boyle, and by Mr Boyle to Mr Hughes, and then to the Ministers was not for that purpose. Further, there is the point Sir Maarten made that it would be quite improper for a chief executive to attempt to filter information to a minister out of a concern how the minister might use it.

[250] For the reasons given above, the disclosure by Mr Hughes to his Minister was for a proper purpose and to a party who had a genuine interest in receiving it. It cannot be said the disclosure was highly offensive as it was a communication made in confidence to a Minister to whom Mr Hughes was responsible to, and the content was factual and objective.

[274] Mr Soper explained his answer on the basis that he was not saying it was not serious. Politically it was very serious, but what he was saying is that the oversight in payment was not that serious as the money had been repaid. Later in the same interview when asked “Where to from now, how politically damaging could this be?” Mr Soper answered “I don’t think politically damaging at all”. Again, Mr Soper sought to qualify that answer by noting that that statement had been made the day after Mr Peters’ statement and the firestorm had not actually begun at that stage.

[275] Mr Peter’s private information about the payment irregularity should not have been disclosed to the media. The deliberate disclosure of that private information to the media sources caused Mr Peters harm and distress, but ultimately it was mitigated by the actions he took. In the circumstances, if Mr Peters could have identified who disclosed his private information to the media then damages in the region of $75,000 to $100,000 in total might have been appropriate. This was a deliberate breach of his privacy with the intention of publicly embarrassing him and causing him harm.

So an award of damages might have been appropriate if Peters had identified who leaked his information to media.

Summary/result

276] Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private and not disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it. In particular, he had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

[277] The deliberate disclosure of the details of the payment irregularity to the media would be regarded as highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[278] Mr Peter’s claim against all defendants fails as he is not able to establish that they were responsible for the disclosure of the payment irregularity to the media. He has conceded that neither Ms Bennett nor Ms Tolley were directly responsible for the disclosure to the media. Further, with the exception of the very general, unguarded
comment by Ms Tolley to her sister, the disclosures by the first and third defendants were for a proper purpose or otherwise to persons with a genuine interest in knowing.

[279] The disclosure by the fifth defendant to the SSC and by both the second and fifth defendants to their Ministers were, in the particular circumstances of this case, for a proper purpose and the Ministers had a genuine interest in knowing the details of the payment irregularity.

[280] The plaintiff is unable to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in this case to make out a claim against any of the defendants, including the fourth defendant.

[281] The plaintiff’s claims for damages and declarations are dismissed.

Costs are yet to be decided, but they usually go against the unsuccessful party in legal proceedings, so I presume that Peters may be liable for costs. If so that will cover some of what taxpayers provided to the defendants.

Peters was justified in complaining about his privacy being breached, but failed to identify the leaker. Instead he accused a number of people, but failed, and that is likely to come at a significant cost to him.

In my opinion this is an example of Peters making accusations against political opponents, sometimes claiming to have evidence or implying he has evidence, but failing to come up with evidence.

His reputation was damaged by disclosure of his Super overpayment, but I believe he has also damaged his own reputation.

The question remains as to why Peters made an incorrect claim on his Super application and failed to notice when he started receiving payments and for the next for seven years that he was being paid more than he was entitled to.

Full judgment: Peters v Bennett [2020] NZHC 761 (20 April 2020)


Newsroom 13 November 2019: Winston Peters accepts National ministers didn’t leak

RNZ today: Paula Bennett welcomes Winston Peters’ privacy court case failure (includes ausio)

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett says her name has been cleared by the courts after – what she calls – a fishing expedition by Winston Peters for his own political purposes.

Peters claimed the leak was for political purposes and targeted Bennett and Tolley, but Bennett has now responded saying Peters took her to court for political purposes.

The proceeding was initially filed in court just before NZ First went into negotiations with National (Bennett was involved) to supposedly try to form a coalition.

 

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.