Paula Bennett says she doesn't go 'scuffling around doing leaks'

At least two Ministers and the Prime Minister's chief of staff knew Winston Peters was being overpaid superannuation ahead of a leak to Newshub, it emerged on Tuesday morning.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was informed but says the leak didn't come from her office. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett was also informed as State Services Minister.

Investigations have been launched by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Inland Revenue (IRD) to find the leakers.

What you need to know:

  • July 15 Winston Peters met MSD officials to discuss the overpayment of his superannuation
  • July 31 Social Development Minister Anne Tolley  informed of Mr Peters' overpayment
  • August 1 Ms Tolley tells the Prime Minister's chief of staff
  • August 15 MSD tells Ms Tolley of Mr Peters' outcome
  • August 18 Newshub received an anonymous phone call saying Mr Peters had been overpaid superannuation
  • August 26 Politics reporter Lloyd Burr asks Mr Peters whether he was overpaid superannuation - Mr Peters refuses to give a straight answer
  • August 27 Mr Peters releases a statement saying the superannuation error had been "concluded to the Ministry's satisfaction"
  • August 29 IRD and MSD launch investigations into leak of information

Refresh the page for the latest live updates.

4pm: Paula Bennett says leak didn't come from her office

In June 2016, Paula Bennett was accused of character assassination after it was revealed her office leaked information about Te Puea Marae's chair to media.

At the time, Ms Bennett was Social Development Minister and National was under pressure because of winter homelessness.

Te Puea Marae was providing emergency housing for homeless people, including 20 children, some of which had been living in cars.

At the time of the Te Puea leak, marae chair Hurimoana Denis told The Nation he told Ms Bennett he was under police investigation because he wanted to be transparent and had expected confidentiality.

This time, Ms Bennett says the leak didn't come from her office.

"So, do we think someone from the Beehive put on a different voice and rung an anonymous tip off to the media? I mean it's just ridiculous," Ms Bennett told Newshub's Emma Jolliff.

"I don't actually go around the back scuffling around doing leaks. I actually, if I've got something to say, I say it directly and up front and kind of bluntly. "

"I hold confidential information. I do that with respect, and I have not leaked."

12pm: Winston Peters to lodge "serious action"

Winston Peters has told media he will "lodge a serious action" when his lawyer returns from an overseas holiday today.

"This is humbug. It's tawdry. It's dirty. It's filthy, and they should not succeed on that", Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters said "they would try and impute my character straight away. That's exactly what the typical what I might call 'band of rascals' went out to do."

"I'll find out every last thing."

Mr Peters claims the leaks go all the way to the Prime Minister.

"You've got a political party that's been deeply exposed now. That's all the way to the Prime Minister. Don't tell me Paula Bennett knew and the Prime Minister didn't know," Mr Peters said.

"It's underhand, and it's dirty politics. It's probably, in my view, illegal. Utterly, utterly wrong and apparently they knew even before I knew."

11:30am: Prime Minister says Ministers should not have been told

Prime Minister Bill English says it would have been better if his ministers had not been informed of Mr Peters' superannuation overpayment.

In a statement, Mr English said "Chief Executives make the decision on what to advise the Minister under the no surprises policy.  They do this carefully and in good faith.

"On this occasion, however, given the personal and confidential nature of the information, it would have been better for the Ministers not to have been advised."

Mr English said he believes the leak did not come from the Beehive or the National Party.

"I have no tolerance for leaks of this nature. Mr Peters is understandably concerned about how the matter became public and so am I."

10:50am: State Services Commission slams information leak

The State Services Commission has condemned the leak of information around Winston Peters being overpaid superannuation, and both the MSD and IRD have launched investigations.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said the information was shared with ministers under the 'no surprises' policy, but said in a statement on Tuesday morning "there was an expectation that these matters would be held in confidence by Ministers".

"It is entirely unacceptable for Public Servants to leak information.  Leaking official information would undermine the trust New Zealanders have in the public service. Leaking is a political act which would compromise the political neutrality of the public service."

"There will be zero tolerance for any behaviour of this nature in the public service and both MSD and Inland Revenue have launched investigations to assess whether a leak took place," he said.

Mr Hughes said the information was shared with the Minister of Social Development and the Minister of State Services because "It is essential that Ministers are aware of significant issues within their portfolios so they can answer to the Parliament."

He said the Ministers were briefed after all decisions had been made to ensure "there could not have been inappropriate involvement in operational decisions while allowing Ministers to be aware of significant matters in their portfolio".

7am: Bill English's office told about Winston Peters' superannuation overpayment - update by Jenna Lynch

The Prime Minister's chief of staff was given an early heads up about Winston Peters being overpaid superannuation - but decided "it was not necessary" to advise Bill English or anyone else in the office.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was also informed - but denies the tip-off came from her office, despite Newshub being told three days later.

On Monday evening, Mr Peters admitted he was receiving the pension at a single-person rate while in a relationship.

Mr Peters says he paid it back as soon as he found out, but the self-styled campaigner for transparency refuses to say how much it was.

Now the New Zealand First Leader is on the warpath, sending out investigators to try and find the source who leaked he was overpaid superannuation.

Mr Peters met with the Ministry of Social Development on July 15. Ms Tolley initially said she was told one month later on August 15.

However, on Wednesday morning after re-checking the dates, she told Newshub she was first told verbally on July 31.

Newshub received an anonymous phone call on August 18. Ms Tolley says the leak did not come from her office.

Meanwhile, IRD have confirmed Revenue Minister Judith Collins wasn't told about the over-payment.

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show if the National Party is the source of the leak it would be "disappointing".

"That is not the kind of politics that I want to be a part of.

"But I want to be really clear here - just because Anne Tolley received the information doesn't mean she is the source of the leak."

The Ministry of Social Development says it takes breaches of personal information very seriously.

Newshub raised the allegations of superannuation overpayment on Saturday, and Mr Peters wouldn't give a straight answer.

When asked whether he would deny or rule out questions of overpayment, Mr Peters said he did not "have any comment to make about people running around making malicious statements about Winston Peters".

He admitted the error 15 hours later in a press release.

Newshub.

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Email
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Viber Share to WhatsApp Share to Email