11 Aug 2018

Taxpayers to fork out $20k to defend Peters' lawsuit

1:56 pm on 11 August 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her deputy Winston Peters are refusing to answer questions about how much taxpayers might ultimately have to fork out for Mr Peters' legal pursuit of National Party MPs over his superannuation privacy leak.

Winston Peters.

Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

But it's been revealed today that Cabinet agreed in February to pay the estimated $20,000 bill for the former ministers being sued by Mr Peters.

It emerged late last year thatMr Peters had initiated legal action against National MPs Bill English, Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley the day before the September election.

They'd been told about his superannuation overpayment under the 'no surprises' policy and Mr Peters blames them for leaking it to the media.

In November, National's chief of staff wrote to the Speaker asking if legal costs could be funded out of the party's leadership fund.

That request was declined on the grounds the former ministers would not have had access to the information if they hadn't been ministers.

Mr Peters today refused to respond to any questions about the matter.

"It's subjudice and I can't make any comment about it ... do you know what subjudice means?"

Ms Ardern would not answer whether costs are going to climb for taxpayers as her deputy continues to pursue Ms Bennett and Ms Tolley.

"Those are hypothetical questions and those are also matters before the court so I won't comment,'' she said.

Attorney-General David Parker sought Cabinet's approval for taxpayers to fund the legal costs - Mr Peters recused himself from Cabinet at the time the decision was made.

Mr Parker is also caught up in the legal battle as he is being sued as Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development as part of Mr Peters' case.

Attorney-General David Parker

Attorney-General David Parker Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Unlike his colleagues, Mr Parker did delve into potential future costs to the taxpayer.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they make an application to the Crown for further covering their costs. If they do that will be assessed by Crown Law according to long-settled principles as to whether this arises in their personal capacity or as a consequence of holding ministerial office,'' he said.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the public should not have an issue with picking up the bill.

"It's actually something I feel strongly about. I don't think we want a situation where the only people who go into politics are the wealthy, who can afford these sorts of risks, actually you want people from all sorts of backgrounds.

"New Zealanders as fair-minded people when they think all this through they will understand that when ministers act as ministers their costs and legal cases ... are paid for by the Crown,'' he said.

Mr Bridges said the cost to the taxpayer had already been halved because Mr Peters had to pay back $10,000 in costs to the Crown.

Asked whether that was true, this is what Mr Peters had to say: "Well, everything else he's saying is balderdash so why would this be different?"

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