Labour: Paula Bennett has hit 'a new low'

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett (Simon Wong)
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett (Simon Wong)

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has admitted her press secretary leaked information about police investigating the chairman of an Auckland marae that has taken in homeless people, and she has been forced to apologise.

Ms Bennett finally fronted up to Te Puea Marae this morning, and by the afternoon was fronting up to questions her office leaked personal information about marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis.

Mr Dennis told Ms Bennett he was under police investigation when they met at an Auckland cafe on Friday to discuss the marae getting public funding to help with the homeless it is sheltering. One of Ms Bennett's press secretaries was there and leaked it.

The Social Housing Minister was under pressure in Parliament, and soon admitted the incident.

"A member of my team has told me they did discuss it with a reporter briefly," she said.

Ms Bennett claims her press secretary "assumed the information was in the public arena".

"I accept their assurances it won't happen again. I have made it clear that it was not appropriate."

It led to Labour calling for her resignation if it were proven she'd ordered the leak.

"There are allegations swirling around at the moment that her staff leaked information about a police investigation into a private citizen. If that is true, it is unconscionable," Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said.

"If these allegations are true then Paula Bennett is unfit to be a minister."

Mr Dennis is a senior police officer, but police headquarters said he was stood down from his duties in September last year because of a pending police investigation.

Ms Bennett has previously been accused of leaking private information while under political pressure, putting information about two beneficiaries' payments into the public domain in 2009.

"The information was pretty much readily available," she said in 2009.

Ms Bennett has been under intense political pressure, and this is the latest, and most serious, error.

Mr Twyford isn't buying the explanation, saying it's unbelievable a press secretary "went rogue" to try and smear Mr Dennis' reputation.

"Political staff would not take such serious unilateral action without the knowledge of their minister. Their job is to act in the best interest of their boss.

"This is another example of Paula Bennett lashing out under pressure and embarking on a character assassination to try to divert attention away from her failed social housing policy. She has a history of vindictive privacy breaches.

"The buck stops with Paula Bennett. Throwing a staff member under the bus is a new low, even for her," Mr Twyford says.

He says an investigation into a professional matter doesn't take away from the good work the marae is doing to help house the homeless.

Mr Twyford believes Ms Bennett should also apologise to the marae and those who run it.