Winston Peters says it's 'not clear' how superannuation overpayment happened

It's "obscene" that people earning salaries as high as Winston Peters get thousands of dollars in superannuation payments every year, The Opportunities Party (TOP) leader Dr Gareth Morgan says.

Mr Peters earns close to $200,000 a year as leader of New Zealand First - a base salary of $175,398, plus additional pay for each member of his party in Parliament and expenses of up to $16,697.

On Sunday Mr Peters admitted having to pay back pension overpayments he had been receiving since 2010.

Speaking to Mark Sainsbury on RadioLIVE on Monday morning, Dr Morgan said people like himself and Mr Peters don't need the thousands of extra dollars every year.

"I'm just going to buy a motorbike with mine, and all my mates are gonna use it to go to Fiji," Dr Morgan said.

"And Winston. What's Winston going to do with his? ... Seven years [worth of superannuation payments], man. That's a lot of whiskey.

"It's actually obscene".

Dr Morgan said TOP would halve superannuation payments to wealthier pensioners and instead introduce a universal benefit of $200 per week, with those who satisfy a means test having their pension topped up by $7500 per year.

Peters 'not sure' who to blame for super overpayment

Mr Peters told The AM Show on Monday morning his superannuation overpayment might have begun "with an IRD matter which was not picked up".

He is adamant he never lied about his living situation.

"We couldn't work out who made the mistake, because there was clearly a statement being made that had been changed," he told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"It wasn't clear how the mistake was made." 

Newsroom on Monday morning reported the overpayment figure was $18,000. It was apparently racked up over seven years - Mr Peters getting paid at the single person's rate, despite living with his de facto partner.

He says she was with him when he first applied for super, and he ticked the right boxes.

The discrepancy was reportedly picked up when his partner applied for her superannuation.

He says the $18,000 figure is wrong.

"It's way less... [The Ministry of Social Development] never told me what the repayment figure was. She gave me the global figure, the overpayment, plus the interest it attracts - it's very high, I might add - and I think penalties. That's it."

The Ministry would not reveal the figure when asked by Newshub.

"While we appreciate the level of public interest in this case, the Ministry holds a great deal of very personal information that we have a duty of care to protect," a spokesperson said in a statement. "It is not our information to share.

"As stated by Mr Peters, we have been in contact and the matter has been resolved to the Ministry's satisfaction."

Mr Peters says as soon as he found out in July, he was on a plane to Auckland to get it fixed.

"When I heard about it I stopped off my life in Wellington, got on a plane and got to Auckland as fast as I could. I wanted to know what on Earth they were talking about."

Newshub contacted Mr Peters about the overpayment on Saturday. He said then he wasn't going to "respond to any of this sort of crap at all".

"Nobody is going to call me up on this one of these sort of classic questions which is 'have you stopped beating your wife' type stuff. No one responds to that sort of stuff."

On Monday, he said he didn't comment on Saturday because he was under the impression Newshub obtained the information from the IRD, which would have been a crime. Newshub did not find out about the overpayments from the IRD.

Asked why it took several years for the discrepancy to be picked up, Mr Peters said it's because superannuitants don't need to report their living situation to the ministry unless it changes - and his hadn't changed in that time.

He says two journalists had contacted him before Newshub's Lloyd Burr to warn him a "total beat-up" was coming.

Adamant he never lied about his living situation, Mr Peters said it wasn't clear who made the mistake so he wasn't going to blame anyone in particular.

"We couldn't work out who made the mistake. I'm a trained lawyer with a lot of experience. I would love to be able to say who made the mistake, but I can't."

Despite his strong support for the elderly and their entitlement to superannuation, Mr Peters said it's easy to not notice when payments aren't being made correctly.

"You go and ask everybody over 65 - they're all on different rates and none of them know why."

Coalition fallout?

Prime Minister Bill English said Mr Peters' overpayment was a "private matter for him and the department", and wouldn't affect National's willingness to work with him, should they need New Zealand First to form a Government.

"It's really a matter of whether the voters trust him, because Winston Peters in a Govement makes it a different sort of Government. I want to be able to form a Government that's got a clear direction... if voters want something else, well we'll work with Winston Peters."

Asked if Mr Peters be the last cab off the rank, Mr English said that spot was reserved for Labour.

When questioned by media, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern repeatedly said questions are a matter for Mr Peters to answer.

"There still are questions, obviously, being asked, and more information would be helpful, but I still maintain this is an issue for Winston Peters to be answering questions on," she said.

Newshub.

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