Te Puea Marae chair under investigation

Paula Bennett and Hurimoana Dennis at Te Puea Marae (Newshub.)
Paula Bennett and Hurimoana Dennis at Te Puea Marae (Newshub.)

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has apologised to the chairman of Te Puea Marae after information about a police investigation into him was leaked from her office.

Ms Bennett revealed on Tuesday the marae's chair, Hurimoana Dennis, was under police investigation and was questioned on whether her press secretary had been trying to leak the information to media.

She revealed Mr Dennis told her about the investigation on Friday when they met at a café in Auckland. But she refused to give any details on what the investigation is about.

Police say Mr Dennis was stood down as a police officer on September 21, 2015 pending a police investigation. 

She wasn't aware of the allegations of the leak, but said she'd check with her office.

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."

But in a statement this afternoon, Ms Bennett apologised to Mr Dennis, saying her press secretary had assumed the information was public.

"I have since had the opportunity to ask my staff and a member of my team has told me they did discuss it with a reporter briefly at the conclusion of a phone call about a work matter. The staff member in question assumed the information was in the public arena.

"My staff member very much regrets this error and has apologised to me, and I accept their assurances it won't happen again. I have made it clear that it was not appropriate," she says.

Ms Bennett says she called Mr Dennis to apologise.

However, 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.