PM: Leaks not from Beehive
Prime Minister Bill English has echoed State Services commissioner Peter Hughes saying there will be “zero tolerance” for any leaking of official information from within government departments.
Mr English also says any leaks pertaining to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters’ superannuation information did not come from the government.
"The two ministers and my chief of staff have assured me of that. I would take any leak very seriously."
Just moments before Mr English issued his statement, a similar one was issued from the State Services Commission (SSC).
“Leaking is a political act which would compromise the political neutrality of the public service,” Mr Hughes says, adding that leaking official information would “undermine the trust New Zealanders have in the public service.
Mr English says Ministerial Services – which is responsible for ministerial staff as their employer – will also look at how the information was handled within the relevant offices.
This follows Inland Revenue’s acting commissioner Cath Atkins confirmed IRD is investigating allegations to “preserve public trust and confidence.
“We need to be satisfied there is no evidence of wrongdoing. That work is ongoing.”
Mr English says it’s his understanding that two of his ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett were advised of the matter by their respective chief executives (Social Development and State Services Commission) under the "no surprises" policy.
The no surprises convention is set out in the cabinet manual and requires departments to inform ministers promptly of matters of significance within their portfolio responsibilities, particularly where these matters may be controversial or may become the subject of public debate.
“I am advised they were informed that there had been an issue which had been resolved to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD),” Mr English says.
“Minister Tolley advised my chief of staff, who made the judgment that it was not necessary for me or anyone else to be informed.”
He says chief executives make the decision on what to advise the minister of under the no surprises policy and do so “carefully and in good faith.”
“On this occasion, however, given the personal and confidential nature of the information, it would have been better for the ministers not to have been advised.
Mr Hughes says he is advised the no surprises convention exists because of ministerial accountability to Parliament for the conduct of the department they have portfolio responsibility for.
“It is essential that ministers are aware of significant issues within their portfolios so they can answer to the Parliament. However, they must not become involved in operational matters within departments.”
He says he has discussed this matter with MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle.
“Mr Boyle and I sought advice from the solicitor-general on the appropriate way to ensure decisions were made independently and the requirement to ensure ministers were not surprised was met.
“My advice to Mr Boyle was that MSD should deal with Mr Peters’ case in line with the agency’s standard policies and procedures, in exactly the same way as would happen for any other New Zealander. I am assured that is what happened.”
He says briefings were provided to the minister of social development by MSD and to the minister of state services by SSC.
“No briefings were given to ministers until after all decisions were made. That ensured there could not have been inappropriate involvement in operational decisions while allowing ministers to be aware of significant matters in their portfolio.
“There was an expectation that these matters would be held in confidence by ministers.”
When these briefings were given they contained limited details, Mr Hughes says.