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.

 

 

Court insists that Peters provide answers

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

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

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

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

This came out in a High Court hearing last Friday.

Newsroom – Judge to Peters: Answer the questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defendants are:

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

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

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

Court decisions currently available publicly:

Immigration policy changes – families for the rich

Winston Peters is claiming the credit for a toughening up of the Parental Visa Scheme which makes it possible for only high income earners to sponsor family members immigrating too New Zealand.

Peters must see votes for NZ First as more important than families.

RNZ:  NZ First pushed for tightening of parental visa scheme

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the tightening up on who can move to New Zealand is a direct response to his party’s demands during coalition negotiations with Labour.

That sits uncomfortably against the posturing of the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister who this week celebrated the lifting of the moratorium on the parent category visa.

In the last fortnight the government has announced three significant changes to its immigration policy.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme will be boosted by just over 3000 in the next two years, the government has overturned the family link policy that stopped refugees from Africa and the Middle East resettling in New Zealand unless they had family here and it’s reinstated the parent category visa – but with a cap on the number of parents who can come in and a high income test for the child sponsor.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Peters said the parental category visa changes that switch the financial onus from the parent moving to New Zealand to the child sponsor, and almost doubles the income test is “precisely” what New Zealand First pushed for at the Cabinet table.

“Where in the world can you decide to go and take your parents as well? That’s the reality here,” he said.

Only when a skilled migrant is living in New Zealand, who is critical to the workforce, and is in demand internationally does it make sense to allow them to bring a parent in, Mr Peters said.

“It is a significant tightening up of the parental visa scheme.”

“What we had here was up to 31 percent of the so-called sponsors having left this country to go off to other countries, including Australia, and leaving the cost to the taxpayers.”

The change is going to make it more likely that skilled immigrants will desert the country if they can’t bring in their family members.

For New Zealand First it’s about upholding a nationalist approach, something Mr Peters said always existed until the “neo-liberal experiment unleashed itself on the idea that more immigration meant cheap labour”.

Immigration has been an essential for the growth of New Zealand since long before the so-called “neo-liberal experiment”.

“All these things were meant to be part and parcel of a planned population policy but there was no plan other than to drive up consumption with mass immigration,” he said.

Peters keeps using the term “mass immigration”, which is nonsense but deliberately panders to a small intolerant section of society (and voters). NZ First needs more than them to keep their support levels up – and those who expected him to fulfil his promise to slash overall immigrant numbers (to 10,000, currently about 50,000) may still feel he hasn’t delivered anyway.

Sexual assault claims ‘innuendo’ and ‘lies’

Winston Peters arrived back in Parliament after sick leave and immediately took to stirring up Labour’s sexual assault issue. He also tried to attack Judith Collins by association – much along the lines that have been run at The Standard.

Newshub: Winston Peters labels Labour sexual assault claims ‘innuendo’, NZ First MPs back him up

Winston Peters has wasted no time wading into the Labour Party investigation, calling the allegations “unfounded fiction”, an “orgy of speculation”, and “innuendo”.

The NZ First leader’s inflammatory comments come as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seeks to work with the complainants out of the public glare – but she won’t take her deputy to task.

“I’ve rarely seen such a disgraceful episode of unfounded allegations,” Peters said on Tuesday.

Typical irony from Peters given his history of using speculation and innuendo and allegations without producing evidence (it has often just been threatened).

He said it was “led by a woman called Paula Bennett making all sorts of vile allegations by way of innuendo without a fact to back it up”.

And New Zealand First MPs were lining up to back him up.

“If you are a victim of criminal wrongdoing, do not go to the opposition – go to the police,” Shane Jones, Regional Economic Minister, said.

Tracey Martin, Internal Affairs Minister, added: “[Winston Peters has] got a point – I haven’t seen any evidence be produced.”

So it looks like a coo-ordinated line of attack.

In Parliament yesterday Peters attempted a diversionary attack on Judith Collins was not allowed by the Speaker: 9. Question No. 9—Energy and Resources

Rt Hon Winston Peters: A supplementary question to the primary question today from the Leader of the Opposition: which member of Parliament was associated with this company?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Speakers’ ruling 159/5 says, “It is not reasonable to use questions from the governing party or its support parties to attack other members of the House.” I think it’s clear that what the Deputy Prime Minister is doing is deliberately targeting a member of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: I’ll hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That protest might sound meritorious were it not for the fact that the very leader of his own party raised that question during a supplementary in the first question today.

SPEAKER: Well, I’m not convinced that team-tag would make something like this appropriate. My view on this—and it’s a very strict view—is that attacks, especially on the families of members of Parliament, are generally inappropriate. I think that the question was an invitation to attack a family member of a member of this Parliament, and on that basis I’m not going to allow it to proceed.

Coincidentally (perhaps) similar lines have been run at The Standard. This post yesterday went as far as naming Collins: The strange case of Oravida and the rupturing of the Ruakaka jet fuel line:

The rumour mill went overboard at the time with suggestions that an Oravida company associated with Judith Collins was involved.

The post included an Oravido photo with Collins. This is dirty politics by association. Collins wasn’t driving the digger that ruptured the fuel line, and there’s no evidence she had anything to do with it or with the operations of the company – I think it’s extremely unlikely.

Also at The Standard yesterday, again authored by Labour stalwart MICKYSAVAGE: An unfortunate rush to judgment by the media?

Labour’s Council member Simon Mitchell, who is a very experienced and adept lawyer, has made a public statement which directly contradicts the essence of some of the allegations that have been made.

The post strongly supports Mitchell’s statement, and makes no mention of the complainant’s counter statement (it was linked in comments by someone else).

The post features an old photo of Paula Bennett with Cameron Slater, who has no link to the Labour sexual assault story. Associating Bennett here with Mr Dirty Politics is the sort of dirty politics that Slater used. SHG commented

And lprent was again throwing around warnings when comments were made that he didn’t like.

Either Mitchell is lying or this individual victim is lying. I’d be interested in hearing what the other complainants have to say. What a messy situation.

Let us not forget that Sarah is only one of twelve people who have complained.

Also, let us not forget that where sexual assault/rape/harrassment is concerned, only a fraction of the incidents ever result in complaints.

What I’m saying is, don’t fixate on what Sarah did or didn’t say to the Labour Party’s lawyer as if answering that question represents any sort of achievement.

[lprent: Lets not forget that the panel and everyone else in the Labour process have been saying that the sexual assault/rape allegations weren’t raised to them. You have just asserted that it was. That is defamatory.

Please keep trying to make me liable. I am really looking forward to kicking your snarky lying arse off the site permanently.

Second warning. ]

Ironic accusing SHG of being defamatory given the posts smearing MPs.

lprent falsely accused me of lying last week when all I was doing was quoting media reports. He has accused the media and others of lying too.

He and The Standard seem to have a similar agenda to peters and NZ First, It looks like the are doing dirty work for the Labour party establishment in a defence, and an attack on the complainants.

Disclosure: The Standard banned me on Sunday for posting media reports on this issue. The seem to be hard out trying to control the message favourable to the Labour Party establishment, with messages contrary to what Jacinda Ardern has been saying.

Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill appears to be still stalled

National MP Nick Smith introduced the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill to Parliament in March 2016.

The sanctuary was a part of both governing agreements between Labour and NZ First and the Green Party, but after the bill was transferred to incoming Labour Minister of the Environment David Parker the bill seems to have stalled. In nearly three years it hasn’t progressed from it’s Second Reading.

Smith recently stated:

“It is embarrassing for the Coalition Government that it has made no progress on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary after 18 months in Government.  The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill, originally in my name but transferred to David Parker with the change in Government in 2017, has sat on the bottom of Parliament’s Order Paper for 18 months.

Timeline:

8 March 2016 – Bill introduced to Parliament

15 March 2016 – First Reading

22 July 2016 – Select Committee

15 September 2016Govt remains committed to Kermadec sanctuary

The Government is disappointed it has been unable to reach agreement with Maori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) on the Kermadec/Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary, despite lengthy negotiations, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“We have tried very hard to find a resolution with TOKM, with 10 meetings involving ministers during the past 10 months. TOKM wanted to be able to maintain the right to fish and the right to exercise that at some time in the future. We wanted to protect the integrity of the sanctuary as a no-take area.

“The Government has amended the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill to provide a dual name, the Kermadec/Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary Bill, to include Maori in the new Kermadec/Rangitahua Conservation Board, and to provide for their inclusion in the 25-year review. We remain committed to the changes to the proposal despite not being able to secure an agreement with TOKM.”

24 October 2017: Governing Agreements

Labour NZ First Coalition Agreement:

    • Work with Māori and other quota holders to resolve outstanding issues in the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill in a way that is satisfactory to both Labour and New Zealand First.

Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement (24 October 2017):

8. Safeguard the healthy functioning of marine ecosystems and promote abundant fisheries. Use best endeavours and work alongside Māori to establish the Kermadec/ Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary and look to establish a Taranaki blue whale sanctuary.

11 May 2018Winston Peters says the Greens can have a Kermadec Sanctuary – with a catch

Hope for a Kermadec Sanctuary is back on the table and NZ First leader Winston Peters is confident he can do a deal with the Green Party by the end of the year.

The deal would involve a compromise from the Greens though – accepting that the sanctuary won’t be a 100 per cent no-fishing zone.

While the previous government’s bill to establish it passed its first reading unopposed in 2016, iwi bodies and fishing companies subsequently filed legal action against it. NZ First, which has close ties to the fishing industry, raised serious concerns about the legislation.

To keep the fishing industry happy and to ensure iwi with fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi are on board, Peters is proposing a mixed model that allows for roughly 95 per cent marine reserve and 5 per cent fishing.

Peters says it’s entirely possible to preserve species while allowing a small percentage of fishing to keep interested parties on side.

He said the Greens would need to decide whether it was more important to have the best part of a sanctuary, or no sanctuary at all.

23 June 2018 – David Parker address to the Forest & Bird Annual Conference

I am also trying to progress the Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary, which I have Ministerial responsibility for. I am working to see if I can find a way through that.

24 July 2018Winston Peters confident of Kermadec Marine Sanctuary deal by end of year

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is confident the deadlock over the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary can be broken by the end of the year.

Environment Minister David Parker and Mr Peters have been working on a compromise for the best part of this year.

Mr Peters insisted an end-of-year deadline was realistic.

“If we keep working on this issue with the level of commitment that has been exhibited thus far then it’s very likely we can have it resolved by the end of 2018.”

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said there was more than one way to uphold Treaty rights and keep the Kermadec Islands a sanctuary.

“We’re committed to a sanctuary, it’s with our confidence and supply agreement with Labour and that’s what we’re committed to keep working towards. I haven’t actually seen details of exactly what Mr Peters and Mr Parker might be working on.”

Greens seem to have been sidelined.

12 February 2019Prime Minister’s Statement at the Opening of Parliament

Cabinet will also consider options to resolve outstanding issues around marine protection for Rangitahua/the Kermadecs.

While the sanctuary Bill seems to have stalled since 2016, despite the coalition and C&S agreements, it seems to remain stalled.

Nick Smith: Kermadec sanctuary lost at sea

World Oceans Day today highlights the Government’s failure to make any progress on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary in the past 18 months, Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith says.

There seems to have been little progress since mid-2016, nearly three years ago.

“New Zealand has responsibility for one of the largest areas of ocean in the world, yet less than one per cent is fully protected. The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would protect an area twice the size of New Zealand’s land mass, 15 per cent of our ocean area and it would benefit hundreds of unique species, including whales, dolphins, turtles, seabirds, fish and corals.

“Nothing has been done by the Government to progress the Sanctuary, despite commitments in the Coalition Agreement with NZ First and the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Greens to establish the sanctuary.

“National will continue to push for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. There is strong public support and between National and the Greens, there is a clear majority of Parliament in favour of its establishment.

“We support progression of the Government Bill now at second reading stage. I also have a Member’s Bill in the Ballot to make progress if necessary. The Government needs to make progress on this Sanctuary a priority.”

So why has this bill stalled?

Is David Parker not doing enough to push it?

Are negotiations with Maori interests still getting nowhere?

Are NZ First holding out for their deal or no deal?

Forty years since “not a monotonous garden” Winston Peters’ maiden speech

I think it’s fair to ask whether Winston Peters is past his ‘best before’ date, but it would be an interesting to consider when he has been at his best in Parliament.

This week marked forty years since his maiden speech in Parliament.

He has become a bit monotonous over the years, but has had a varied and at times successful political career.

Peters was born on 11 April 1945, just before World War 2 ended, 19 days before Hitler died.

He stood for National in the Northern Maori seat but was never going to come close to winning that. It was effectively a practice run.

He stood in Hunua in the 1978 election and lost on the initial result, but this was overturned after an electoral petition. He entered parliament 6 months after the election, on 24 May 1979.

Hitting out against critics and opponents has been a frequent occurrence.

His  first stint in Parliament was short, losing the seat in the 1981 election. He stood in Tauranga and won in 1984, holding that until 2005, when he became a list MP, He and NZ First dropped out of Parliament altogether in 2008, but both Peters and his party got back in in 2011.

So while it is forty years since Peters first entered Parliament he has been an MP for 34 years.

 

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.

 

 

Cabinet considering extending employer Kiwisaver beyond the age of 65

NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says that Cabinet is considering extending the age when employers have to contribute to employees’ Kiwisaver. The age employers are required by law to contribute is currently 65.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that no decisions have been made.

And Seniors Minister Tracey Martin says “we need older people to stay in paid work”.

RNZ: Peters and Ardern send mixed messages over KiwiSaver changes

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Minister for Seniors, Tracey Martin, were at a Grey Power conference yesterday to announce an injection of more than $8 million to revamp the SuperGold card website, a new app and in funding digital literacy training for seniors.

During the announcement Ms Martin stressed the importance of maintaining a workforce over the age of 65.

“We are going to increasingly need older people to stay in paid work if they want to. We can not have 1.2 million seniors dropping out of the workforce,” she said.

At the conference, Horowhenua Grey Power president Terry Hemmingsen, who was called in to work after he had retired, asked why his employer – the government – had scrapped its contributions to his fund.

“The day you turn 65, that 2 percent employer contribution stops. With government agencies, so being in education, I could keep paying in myself, and did. But I lost the 2 percent. Now that’s discriminatory on the basis of age, wouldn’t you think?”

On that basis you could also say that paying people National Superannuation from age 65 is discriminatory on the basis of age.

But Hemmingsen has a point. People employed with negotiable wage rates can factor in things like the the employer contribution. The KiwiSaver contribution is part of an overall remuneration package, and once that ceases at 65 theoretically at least pay rates can be renegotiated.

But people employed by the Government with industry wide rates of pay, like teachers, may not be able to do that.

Perhaps a solution is for public servant pay rates to be adjusted once someone turns 65.

NZ Herald: Deputy PM Winston Peters says Cabinet is looking into changes to NZ Super eligibility

He said that Cabinet is considering changing the KiwiSaver rules so people over 65 were able to have their contributions matched by their employer.

speaking at the Grey Power annual meeting today, Peters hinted that changes were on the way in this area.

“Something like 70,000–80,000 people have come into our country … and whether they pay tax or not, have acquired full superannuation just like some of you who have worked 45 years,” he told those gathered.

“The issue of being able to arrive in our country and get full super after just 10 years is being addressed as I speak.”

Speaking to media after the speech, he said the Government was looking into increasing the amount of time someone has to live in New Zealand before being eligible for the scheme.

Asked if the Government’s position on the issue would be unveiled before the 2020 election, he said: “Very much so, yes”.

At the moment, if someone over 65 is still working their employer is not obligated to match their contribution.

Peters said this was “not right”.

“And the Government and Cabinet are looking at that matter as we speak – trying to see why that would be fair and, more broadly, why would we not keep on encouraging older people to keep on saving?

“It’s a serious question, we’re looking at that right now.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was less enthusiastic, but also non-committal:

“New Zealand First has long held a policy in this area and it’s absolutely within any party leader’s rights to reiterate that,” she said at a post-Cabinet press conference today.

“But I note that the Deputy Prime Minister also acknowledged that no decisions have been made.”

“When we make any decision related to retirement or savings, they will be announced – I’m not going to speculate on any other policy work that is being done, or has been done”.

I am concerned that Cabinet could be discussing this possibility and could make a decision according to Peters without proper public discussion and debate.

There is no reference to KiwiSaver in the Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement.

Little ‘transformational’ about Government so far

Jacinda Ardern promoted her Government as being transformational, but apart from transforming Winston Peters and Shane Jones into well funded promoters of their own interests these is not much transforming going on.

Ardern opened her year claiming that this would be her Government’s year of delivery, but what they have delivered so far has been underwhelming.

The just announced welfare ‘reforms’ have been paltry – see Welfare advisory group – 42 recommendations, 3 to be implemented.

Tim Watkin: Government is running out of chances to be ‘transformational’

Strike one: Capital Gains Tax. Strike two: Welfare reform. The Labour-led government is running out of chances to be the “transformational” administration Jacinda Ardern promised in the 2017 election campaign.

Today the Welfare Expert Advisory Group handed the government a radical blueprint to not just tinker with welfare, but – in their words – to make “urgent and fundamental change”.

It was scathing about sanctions against beneficiaries, saying evidence shows they do little but create more harm to those already at the bottom of society. And it recommended a massive 47 percent increase in current benefit levels.

Those would be hugely controversial reforms… or, you could say, transformational. And they are not of the cuff ideas.

The current and previous Children’s Commissioners have urged such substantial benefit increases as the most effective way to tackle child poverty.

What people seldom consider though is that since then wages and salaries have continued to grow. Super, linked to wages, has grown to. But other benefits – with any increases linked to inflation, not wage growth – have not been increased nearly as much. Until, that is, Sir John Key and Bill English famously raised them in 2015. So the gap between work and welfare has grown since the 1990s.

That’s why the report today says, “The level of financial support is now so low that too many New Zealanders are living in desperate situations”.

In sum, the argument in support of this radical prescription is that you can raise abatements here and offer support there, but the best and least bureaucratic way to tackle poverty is to – wait for it – give the poor more money.

So as part of their coalition deal, Labour and the Greens commission this report. They get the transformational advice most of them would have wanted. How do they respond?

Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni agrees the welfare system is not working.

Marama Davidson agrees the welfare system is not working.

And then they commit to ignore the report’s big recommendations.

They say no to up to 47 percent benefit increases, preferring “a staged implementation”. The call for “urgent change” is rejected. Remarkably, Ms Davidson has put her quotes into the same press release, tying the Greens to this approach, when they could have been dissenting from the rafters.

The political and institutional reality is that no government can make these changes overnight. But the cold water thrown on this report underlines what we’ve learnt about this government in its handling of tax, its debt level, labour reform and more.

It is not just incremental, it looks timid.

If the Ardern administration wants to be the transformational government she and her allies think they are in their hearts, they are running out of issues.

A lot of transformation has been limited by NZ First, who seem to have got most of what they want while limiting Labour initiatives (like the CGT) and hobbling the Greens.

Much may depend on what the Government come sup with on climate change, the issue Ardern describe as the nuclear free issue of the present time. Announcements on climate change have been delayed months already. There have been further delays, but promises for next week.

RNZ: NZ First voters will be happy with Zero Carbon Bill deal – Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says his party’s voters will be happy with the deal he’s struck with the Green Party over the Zero Carbon Bill.

Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw this week delayed the release of two reports from the Interim Climate Change Committee until the government makes a decision on how to respond, which will contribute to the final climate change legislation.

Mr Peters wouldn’t be drawn on what the specifics of the bill are but did give an inch when RNZ asked whether his voters would be happy with the legislation, replying, “yes”.

That won’t be encouraging for those wanting transformative action on climate change.

Mr Peters said he couldn’t comment on when the bill would go to Cabinet because that was a matter for the Prime Minister but he understood it would be “sooner rather than later”.

Asked if it would be on the agenda at Cabinet on Monday, Mr Peters said he couldn’t answer that question.

Ardern and Shaw will have a lot of questions to answer if they fail to measure up on climate change. Their reputations are depending on actual transformation.

The future of the Greens in parliament may well depend on this one.