Explained: Government provides Budget 2019 leak timeline to quash scandal

The Government has provided details of when the Beehive was advised by its top spy that Treasury hadn't been "hacked".

National has accused the Government of deliberately misleading the country for more than 24 hours by allowing New Zealanders to think the Treasury had been hacked despite the GCSB telling them otherwise. 

David Parker, Acting Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Minister, standing in for Andrew Little, said he hoped the timings provided in Parliament would be "helpful".

Parker said Treasury released its "hack" statement at 8:02pm on 28 May. It said Treasury had "sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systemic hack and is now subject to a police investigation".

Parker said it was 8:43pm when Little's office was contacted by the GCSB, and it wasn't until 9:43pm that Little actually spoke to the spy agency.

It's understood he was contacted by GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton who advised Little there was no "hack" and that "unauthorised access" would be a more appropriate description of what happened.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament that Little was in a meeting at the time the GCSB first contacted his office, so the information wasn't given to him for about an hour.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in Parliament.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in Parliament. Photo credit: Getty

"He was in a meeting at the time and there was a delay, so I think you'll find there were a couple of hours, maybe an hour or 45 minutes."

She said at about that same time, the chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) also made contact with the GCSB, "and I was advised thereafter in close proximity".

The Prime Minister's office was contacted at 9:52pm, according to Parker, and at 10:25pm the Finance Minister's office was informed.

Beehive's timeline of 28 May

  • 8:02pm - Treasury issues "hack" statement
  • 8:43pm - Andrew Little's office contacted by GCSB
  • 9:43pm - Andrew Little spoke to the GCSB
  • 9:52pm - Prime Minister's office informed
  • 10:25pm - Finance Minister's office informed

The Government's clarification follows the drama of Budget week, when the National Party unveiled details of the Wellbeing Budget two days before the full details were due to be released. 

It prompted Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf to issue a statement saying Treasury had been "deliberately and systematically hacked", followed by a statement from Finance Minister Grant Robertson who named National and echoed Makhlouf's "hack" description.

The GCSB told the Government that night, Tuesday, that there was no hack, but it wasn't until Thursday that the Treasury issued a statement admitting it hadn't been hacked. 

David Parker was standing in for Andrew Little as Acting GSCB Minister.
David Parker was standing in for Andrew Little as Acting GSCB Minister. Photo credit: Newshub

National leader Simon Bridges revealed a search tool on the Treasury website was used to uncover the Budget material.

In Parliament, Robertson was asked by National's finance spokesperson Amy Adams why he issued his statement linking illegal behaviour to the Opposition, without seeking legal advice first.

"The matter had been referred to the police - that was the state of the situation. My words in the statement echoed what the Treasury had already said," Robertson said.

Adams retorted: "Is it his usual pattern to simply parrot what he's told by officials?"

Ardern insisted that by the time the statement went out by both Makhlouf and the Minister of Finance, "no minister had been advised of the GCSB's views around the use of the word 'hack'."

The Prime Minister said Bridges could have chosen to clarify how the information was obtained, but "he chose not to say anything until Thursday morning".

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was unapologetic about the Government's actions regarding the Budget leak scandal.

After National dropped the Budget information on 28 May, the next day Peters said the National Party obtained the figures "in circumstances that were totally illegal."

He stood by his comments on Tuesday. When asked if he still believed National obtained illegal Budget information, he replied: "Yes, I do. I believe they improperly got that information."

The debacle has sparked an investigation by the State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes, who is looking into whether Treasury misled Robertson before he issued his public statement.