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Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf. Image: Radio NZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King
Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf. Image: Radio NZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

The BulletinMay 29, 2019

The Bulletin: Cops called in after bizarre Budget leak

Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf. Image: Radio NZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King
Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf. Image: Radio NZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Treasury calls in police after claims their system was hacked, protesters against coal get mayoral support, and massive teacher strike today. 

Last night, political journalism twitter was nothing but a steady stream of shocked emojis. And the reason for that was a series of dramatic developments in what had initially seemed like little more than a minor embarrassment for the government.

At the start of the day, National leader Simon Bridges had put out a few pieces of information about what was coming in tomorrow’s Budget. They related to alleged upcoming spending announcements in Defence and Forestry, two key portfolios for NZ First. Because of that, Stuff reports, Mr Bridges described it as a “Winston Budget” rather than the government’s preferred term, which is “Wellbeing Budget.” Even though a few more bits of information came out over the course of the day, it didn’t seem like a massive scandal was brewing.

And then Treasury called in the cops. Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf put out a late night statement saying there was “sufficient evidence to indicate that its systems have been deliberately and systematically hacked.” Grant Robertson immediately followed it with a statement saying “we have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material,” as it was now with police. And then National leader Simon Bridges came back at them just as hard, saying “the National Party has acted entirely appropriately. Grant Robertson has falsely smeared us to cover up his and The Treasury’s incompetence. When what has occurred is revealed, he will need to resign.” As I said, a lot of shocked face emojis.

It could be though that the security threat and the leak to National are two completely seperate incidents. Politik is reporting speculation that a wider hack was discovered in the course of investigating a leak, perhaps even by a foreign government. But the key word there is speculation – at this stage we’re rather in the dark about all of it.

Why does all of this matter? Budgets are normally held in utmost secrecy until the moment they’re delivered – even journalists who get to see embargoed copies are sworn to absolute secrecy until the appointed moment. The government tends to release bits and pieces in the weeks leading up. But in totality, Budgets are hugely important documents that can have massive consequences for the economy overall, and especially for specific sectors. Say you were thinking about investing in a company that gets government service contracts, and then the government announced it was going to spend $50 million more in that specific area – all of a sudden such an investment would look a lot more attractive. That’s partly why the vast bulk of the information needs to come out all at once. As for the other part of why this matters – the possibility that Treasury has been hacked, well, that’s pretty self-evidently important.

So what happens now? The truth is, nobody really knows. We just don’t! It looks like the Budget will be read as normal on Thursday, rather than being rushed out early. But politically, some huge claims and insinuations have been made, and it’s unlikely all of them will turn out to be correct. So whatever happens, there could be some severe embarrassment for someone down the line.

Protesters against coal have caused significant disruption to the Minerals Expo in Dunedin, reports Radio NZ. Clashes took place between protesters and police, three arrests were made and one protester was injured. The protesters ended up getting a surprisingly large boost from Dunedin’s mayor Dave Cull – the ODT reports he told conference delegates that those promoting the expansion of fossil fuel exploration were “at odds with this community and my council that represents it.” The audience was reportedly silent when he added that “we don’t have any right to trade in our children’s and grandchildren’s futures just to make a quick dollar now.”

From about midday onwards today teachers will march in massive numbers. One News has details of how today’s primary and secondary school strikes will work – the largest by far in the history of the education sector. More than 50,000 will be involved. For parents, schools may be closed or offering supervision for kids only – those who are unsure are encouraged to check.

Associate transport minister Shane Jones lobbied for Northland logging truck baron Stan Semenoff to get a spot on the NZTA board, reports Stuff. If you need a reminder about who he is, there was a Bulletin about the ongoing NZTA prosecution against his company just last week. Mr Semenoff has been a donor to Shane Jones, and has also been the beneficiary of other lobbying on his behalf. You really gotta wonder where New Zealand will be on next year’s Transparency International Corruption Perception index with stories like this going around.

A new book about Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater has been released, by author Margie Thomson and a foreword from Nicky Hager. On The Spinoff, Sam Brooks has gone through it and picked out ten of the most shocking details and allegations – some are more serious than others. Mr Slater is currently recovering from a stroke.

There is a really weird bit of the book’s release which has left many scratching their heads. Stuff has reported comments from lawyer Felix Geiringer, who says a family was detained by Customs because one of them had a manuscript of the book – he also alleges the Customs officers tried to heavy them into talking about what was in it. If it happened as Mr Geiringer described, it would be a massive abuse of power.

National MP Alfred Ngaro will not be starting up a political party after all, reports Stuff. He has confirmed he will be staying with National, and thanked them for the opportunity to explore the opportunity. It brings the curtain down on a brief and bizarre episode, which never quite seemed fully real. Or perhaps Mr Ngaro just realised the political tides would be against him, as outlined in this blistering NZ Herald (paywalled) column from Matthew Hooton at the end of last week.

This is a short story, but potentially a hugely important one for the emergency services. One News reports (using the word ‘understands’ which generally means it’s pretty solid) that paramedics are currently voting on whether or not to strike. If they did so, it would be the first time it has ever happened, though the story also says life saving measures would be in place. Watch this space.

A very bold claim has come out of the Manawatū town of Marton, where the people say they’ve got the best skate park in the country. It comes out of this NZH Local Focus story, which details how keen the community has been to get it built. I’m not a skater so I can’t comment really but can it really be the best park in the country? Any skaters who read this, have a look and let me know.

A reminder – we’ve launched a new newsletter! This one is called the Spinoff Daily, it collates all the good pieces we’ve published over the day, and then sends it out to your inbox at 5pm. You can sign up here, and it’s good and totally free.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive reports on a claim that there could be something dodgy going on with Cricket World Cup warmup matches. Josie Adams steps into the war zone of the Waiheke ferry and filed a dramatic report. Jai Breitnauer savages the idea that performance pay for teachers would help with anything. I put together a list of some of the more representative, interesting and thoughtful people within Christianity, because at the moment the conversation is dominated by extreme voices.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, if you work in an open plan office DO NOT let your colleagues see this article by Alex Casey. She’s ranked New Zealand’s most iconic ad jingles, and once this article has been read these powerful tunes will cast a spell causing spontaneous outbreaks of song. By mid-afternoon after a day of hearing about how Tux keeps dogs full of life fit as a fiddle sharp as a knife, or that Cats prefer Chef meow, your nerves will be frayed to the point of breaking.

As is to be expected, much of the European elections commentary that has made it to New Zealand has focused on Britain. Their results were fascinating, particularly when viewed through the lens of how the voters want Brexit (or indeed, not doing Brexit) to proceed. As well as that, there was also the drama of PM Theresa May resigning just before the Conservative party – historically Britain’s natural party of government – were dumped into 5th place in the vote.

But the election took place in every other European country too, and it’s worth a look at some of them too. The Guardian have compiled an expert panel to look at the results in Germany, France and Italy, three countries who will dominate the future direction of the EU. And each of them went in rather different directions too, suggesting it won’t be smooth sailing. Here’s an excerpt from the section about Germany.

Germany went Green. The Greens supplanted the Social Democrats (SPD) as the second biggest party after Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU). Among under-30s, the Greens received more votes than the CDU-CSU and the SPD combined. Twenty years ago, the Greens were the party of the radical “68ers”. They’ve reinvented themselves as the party of the children and grandchildren of 1968. Their stylishly dishevelled leader Robert Habeck embodies what this generation would like Germany to be: a kind of environmentally conscious golden retriever.

The nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), widely tipped to lead a far-right surge, topped the polls in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony. But take a closer look: the Greens won in Brandenburg’s capital Potsdam, as they did in Berlin and in Saxony’s largest city Leipzig, not to mention Hamburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Munich and Berlin. As elsewhere in Europe and the west, the main divide in Germany is between on the one hand, young, urban, educated and upwardly mobile “globalists” and on the other hand, older folk in sparsely populated and declining areas, who feel threatened by this brave new world.

The U20 All Whites lads have had a dream start to their World Cup campaign. So far there have been two wins from two, to send them through to the round of 16 with a game in hand. And the football they’re playing is seriously exciting too – have a look at the highlights and this amazing strike from Gianni Stensness. The tournament could well be a very handy springboard for the careers of some of these players.

Speaking of top young athletes, American high school basketball star RJ Hampton is heading to the Breakers for a season. Stuff reports he’s doing it instead of going to College, and plans to refine his game ahead of the NBA draft in 2020. He’s expected to be a first round pick in that draft, and could even be in the top 5. More player recruitment announcements are expected from the Breakers, who are coming off a rare really poor season.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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