5 Jun 2019

Budget 'hack' investigation: Finance Minister Robertson willing to hand communications to SSC

5:57 pm on 5 June 2019

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says it's up to the State Services Commissioner to ask for his communications with Treasury around the so-called Budget hacking if that's what is wanted.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Two days after saying the Treasury's systems had been deliberately and systematically hacked, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf revealed the information had in fact been accessed through repeated searches of the website.

Yesterday, the State Services Commissioner announced he was investigating Mr Makhlouf's statements about the unauthorised access, the advice he provided to the minister, and his decision to refer it to police.

Gabriel Makhlouf, Secretary of the Treasury. Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update 2017.

Gabriel Makhlouf Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Robertson said he did not know Mr Makhlouf had referred the case to police until after the event, and would prove that through his communication records if asked.

"That will be up to the State Services Commissioner to ask what they want, but those communications are the subject to an Official Information Act requests in any event," he said.

National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report today that there were two possible scenarios, and the situation was likely a bit of both.

"You've either got bungling incompetence, and I think we can all believe that could well be the situation, or you have some broad form of deceit and ... dirty politics," he said.

But Mr Robertson did not accept those comments.

"I can absolutely repeat what I have said, that the Treasury Secretary came to me on the Tuesday night and told me that he had already referred the matter to the police and he described it in a way that has been publicly reported, so I certainly reject the later part of Mr Bridge's accusations there," he said.

He said the investigation would get to the bottom of everything and he planned to fully co-operate with the investigation.

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Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Photo / RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had already disclosed to the State Services Commission what she knew of the treasury information breach.

When Ms Ardern was asked if she would co-operate with the investigation and hand over communications, she said it was up state services to choose what they would look into.

"Of course they have said they will cover off the nature of the advice that was provided to the Minister and of course we have already provided detail about we knew and when, through for instance questions in the house," she said.

'Stand down'

Meanwhile, the National Party is calling for Mr Makhlouf to stand down while his handling of the breach of Budget details is investigated.

Deputy Leader Paula Bennett said it was extraordinary Mr Makhlouf was continuing to work while serious questions about whether he misled the government and New Zealanders were being investigated.

Paula Bennett

Paula Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"I think he should offer to stand down while the investigation is going on," Mrs Bennett said.

"I don't think it's tenable for him to be in his position, doing the work that he does on a daily basis as if nothing happened last week.

"I think it's such a senior role and when you can't have confidence expressed in you by both the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister, then surely that says you step aside while an investigaiton goes on."

However, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said the situation did not warrant Mr Makhlouf standing down.

"There are reasons why people are sometimes stood down during an investigation. In my view, this is not one of those situations.

"I fully understand that people want to understand what happened here and there is some speculation about that. I can't do that. The investigation will establish the facts of the matter.

"In the meantime, in the interests of fairness and the integrity of the investigation process, we need to let Mr Ombler get on with the job", he said.

But Mrs Bennett said she suspected the fact Mr Makhlouf was leaving in a few weeks anyway was a factor.

"I really do think that it's because he's leaving at the end of the month that they are actually probably giving him more leeway.

"I don't think that works in the public's interest, and that's whom we should be putting first", Mrs Bennett said.

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