Written By: - Date published: 8:22 am, November 8th, 2017 - 113 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, act, crosby textor, Dirty Politics, Media, nz first, Politics, superannuation, winston peters - Tags: msd, newsroom, nicky hager, paula bennett, public service, tim murphy
It was a classic Dirty Politics ploy right out of the grubby and disgusting playbook that National has been using since the 2002 election. Titbits of largely irrelevant, but personally damaging gossip against political opponents stored away for the right time and released through sources at the most politically damaging time.
Spun out through whatever medium has the least scruples about being sleazy and then amplified by pontificating self-justifying heads keen to gossip without getting their hands dirty.
That was the story, once again, with an unauthorised release of private information, apparently from the Ministry of Social Development, and disseminated through a route that appears to have been Ministers of the Crown and politicalised public servants.
Winston Peters is taking a scattergun legal approach to those who he believes were behind the attempts to damage him during the election campaign over the pension overpayment leak.
Lawyers for the Foreign Minister are today serving papers on nine people, including former National Cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and two journalists, seeking discovery of material relating to the leaks.
Papers have been served on Newsroom.co.nz editor Tim Murphy and will be on Newshub political reporter Lloyd Burr, who’s currently in Australia.
They have also been served on former Prime Minister Bill English, and Ministers Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley, the PM’s former chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and campaign press secretary Clark Hennessy – and the head of the Social Development Ministry, Brendon Boyle, who was the first to know about the overpayment.
High Court proceedings for a hearing, a precursor to a damages claim, have been set down for December 13.
The ‘leak’ was clearly politically motivated and appears to have been facilitated by a culture of political arse licking by senior public servants that has resulted from the last governments slow subversion of the public service. There was no apparent (to me) realistic attempt by the last government to determine who actually leaked the damaging and politically irrelevant information just prior to the election when it was designed to cause the maximum possible damage.
It was also claimed that Bill English wasn’t told about the pension overpayment.
Peters was told about it in mid July, long before it was leaked during the election campaign, and after meeting with the Social Development Ministry, who accepted responsibility for the mistaken overpayment, he paid the money back.
His lawyers are saying his privacy was breached and they will be seeking damages from those served with the papers today.
If you read the headlines, commentary and stories on this particular bit of personal attack dirty politics, that the superannuation mistake wasn’t Winston Peters but was a systematic problem wasn’t even looked at in any depth before the election. But we had this headline from Stuff after the election “Tens of thousands overpaid on their superannuation, pensions”
A total of 52,525 overpayments above what people eligible for on their superannuation or veteran’s pension were made in the year to June 30, 2017, new figures show.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures show that over the past five years, the number of people being overpaid had increased from 35,101 to more than 50,000
The maximum value overpaid in the year to June 30 was $207,139 and the average value of the overpayments in the 2017 year was $625.
There were about 700,000 pensioners in New Zealand, according to MSD.
MSD group general manager of client service support, Dwina Dickinson, said: “It is absolutely wrong to say that 52,000 overpayments represent any issue with the pensions system any more than the number of tax refunds represent an issue with the tax system.”
Except of course that taxpayers are earning money and many pensioners do not. Overpaying pensioners above their entitlements means that eventually they will be required to pay it back, and will often have to do so on limited means. It simply isn’t a good policy for the MSD to follow unless they wish to cause considerable pain an anguish in pensioner households in the future.
But this story highlighting a systematic problem really wasn’t touched by our gossipy media. It appears that looking at real political issues is just too hard for most of them (fortunately there are some notable exceptions).
However the strong suspicion must be that leaking one particular pensioners overpayments was a quite deliberate attempt by someone supporting National’s political strategy to drop the vote for minor parties in the recent election.
But whoever leaked it and those who scooped it violated a whole pile of privacy laws for both Winston Peters and his partner. That left them open for a long and drawn out and public torture by legal action.
Frankly win or lose, it is just another round in the continuing battle to reduce the garbage in local politics that National and Act seem to like adorning themselves in. It should also be a round in making public servants accountable for who they choose to share private information information with, and that includes with their current political masters.
I wish Winston Peters and his legal team the best of luck with cleaning this kind of trash out of our local politics. I’m sure that there will be a lot of other people cheering him on in his search for personal responsibility and liability over politically motivated privacy breaches. If nothing else, with Winston Peters record of political legal debate, it will be a long and drawn out educational process of learning how to dot the i’s and crossing the t’s