'Vicious and orchestrated' attempt by Grant Robertson to gag Opposition - Matthew Hooton

Political commentator Matthew Hooton has called for the resignation of Finance Minister Grant Robinson for a "vicious and orchestrated" attempt to smear the Opposition and allege their involvement in a "criminal conspiracy".

On Tuesday, National leader Simon Bridges revealed details of the Wellbeing Budget - two days before the official announcement.

Later that evening, Treasury, which has access to Budget information, released a statement saying there was sufficient evidence to show its systems had been deliberately and systematically hacked.

Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf said he referred the issue to police at 6pm on Tuesday without instruction from Robertson.

Robertson then responded to Treasury's statement by calling on the National Party to not release any more Budget material "given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is not subject to a Police investigation".

But that police investigation is already over, after quickly determining no unlawful activity had occurred and the Budget information had been obtained through a clever use of the website's search function - not a complex cyberattack.

Hooton told The AM Show that Treasury's decision to get police involved showed the agency was "involved politically" as "there was no way on Tuesday night that the Treasury was acting without direction from the Beehive".

He said Robertson, on Tuesday evening, had been involved in a "vicious and orchestrated attempt... to dog whistle and claim the Opposition had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to hack the Treasury".

"This is a resignation offence."

Matthew Hooton and Grant Robertson.
Matthew Hooton and Grant Robertson. Photo credit: The AM Show / AAP

Newshub has contacted Robertson for his response.

Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern both said in the Debating Chamber on Wednesday that the Finance Minister's Tuesday statement was based on advice provided by the Treasury.

"What I think we need to make sure is absolutely clear here is that no one has made a direct accusation to the National Party," Ardern said.

She did not agree with the "assertion" made by Bridges that Robertson's statement had alleged that the National Party's material was the result of a hack.

Robertson also reiterated that he had not talked to the Treasury about referring the so-called hacking to police before that referral happened and did not know how National obtained its information.

Gabriel Makhlouf and Simon Bridges.
Gabriel Makhlouf and Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show / Newshub Nation.

Makhlouf said he had no evidence to draw a direct connection between information obtained from Treasury and that released by National, but admitted some of the information was the same.

However, regardless of how the Budget information became public knowledge, Hooton says any leak of the sensitive content should have resulted in Robertson offering up his role.

"In a normal functioning Westminster democracy, if there is a Budget leak, the Minister of Finance... offers to resign."

Hooton said it wasn't clear who began the "lie" of how the information got out, but Newshub understands some middle-management at Treasury were aware a "human error" led to the Budget details becoming available.

Bridges on Wednesday also accused Robertson of lying and denied being involved in illegal activities.

"We have acted legally, appropriately, without any hacking or anything approaching that by the National Party or indeed what Grant Robertson is saying, where he is effectively saying that is how we got it. He is wrong.

"What annoys me here is that it should be Grant Robertson here right now, explaining and fronting up. He is misleading New Zealanders, in fact, I would go as far as saying he is lying," Bridges said at a fiery press conference on Wednesday morning.

Newshub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz