29 May 2019

National Party leader and Finance Minister in standoff over Budget 'leak'

7:07 am on 29 May 2019

The Finance Minister and the Opposition leader are locked in a career-ending stand-off over the leaking of Budget information Treasury has now referred to the police.

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Simon Bridges and Grant Robertson Photo: RNZ

The day started with National putting the government on the back foot by drip feeding announcements it said were from the Budget just two days out from its release.

By day's end the leaks were in the hands of police.

Just an hour after Finance Minister Grant Robertson had enjoyed the annual photo opportunity at the printers with his shiny new Budget booklet the National Party dropped the first bomb.

'National reveals Budget details', the 10am headline on its media release screamed.

There's money for tanks but not teachers it claimed, pointing to $1.3 billion it said was being given to the defence portfolio.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was first responder on the scene and dismissed the leak outright.

"I do not take as read anything that comes from the National Party. They are our Opposition, remember, it's their preogrative if they wish to speculate, but they only have two days left till the Budget.''

Mr Robertson dived out of caucus to do triage and by 11.30am was explaining to the media some of the information was correct and some wasn't, but which bits were which would all be revealed in the Budget.

At 1.30pm, a grenade gets thrown. National reveals even more Budget details the press release reads.

National Party leader Simon Bridges was set on making sure the flow of information continued, saying he had no intention of revealing where the Budget goods were being sent from.

"I'm not going to say any detail in relation to that. I think what it does show though is a shoddy, disorganised government and a Budget that isn't about wellbeing.''

With Question Time under way, National MP Amy Adams was set on finding out whether Mr Robertson was going to follow the lead of former ministers entangled in Budget leaks - like Roger Douglas - and offer his resignation.

"In my life I have made it my ambition not to follow what Roger Douglas does,'' Mr Robertson shot back.

So does Ms Adams think Mr Robertson should step aside?

"Well I think the minister should be very concerned that the National Party has been able to source and release three days before the Budget accurate Budget information...he should also be taking responsibility for it himself.''

At 4.30pm, the press release reads 'Mental Health Commission confirmed in Budget' which the Opposition says comes from the leaking of the government's 2019 legislation programme.

Quick to respond was a spokesperson for the Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, who said the claim was based on inaccurate assumptions and was probably from a widely circulated document created for planning purposes.

Mr Robertson had spent the day declaring he wasn't on a witch hunt.

But by 8pm that had all flipped upside down when the Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf dropped his own bombshell, saying police were involved.

Mr Robertson responded by contacting the National Party and asking them to stop releasing any further material given the seriousness of the situation.

But Mr Bridges hit back on Twitter, saying Mr Robertson was falsely smearing his party and when all was revealed the Minister would need to resign.

While Mr Bridges wasn't fronting media last night, his colleague Michael Woodhouse had this to say about Treasury's claim it had been hacked.

"I think the suggestion is ludicrous,'' he said.

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