Winston’s Latest “Scandal”: Bureaucratic Bungle, or “Political Hit-Job”?

By   /   August 28, 2017  /   35 Comments

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THIS LATEST POLITICAL “SCANDAL” involving Winston Peters reminds me of The Godfather. Not the famous scene in which Sonny Corleone is assassinated at the toll booth, but the earlier scene in which Michael Corleone realises that there are no staff on duty in the hospital where his wounded father is being treated. The empty nurses’ work station, the silent corridors, the overwhelming sense of something being “off” – all of it communicates a single, unmistakeable message to Michael. This is a hit.

THIS LATEST POLITICAL “SCANDAL” involving Winston Peters reminds me of The Godfather. Not the famous scene in which Sonny Corleone is assassinated at the toll booth, but the earlier scene in which Michael Corleone realises that there are no staff on duty in the hospital where his wounded father is being treated. The empty nurses’ work station, the silent corridors, the overwhelming sense of something being “off” – all of it communicates a single, unmistakeable message to Michael. This is a hit.

Unfortunately, New Zealand’s mainstream news media lacks the instincts of the fictional mafioso. Thrown a large chunk of red meat by … oh, that’s right, the scandal-mongers have told us nothing about the source of their accusations other than to locate him/her/them “within a concerned public service apparatus” … the media dogs have all, as intended, started baying for more of Mr Peters’ blood.

How strange it is that, at the time of writing, only Jordan Williams from The Taxpayers’ Union, has felt moved to observe: “Winston Peters has either been the victim of a political hit-job, or there is a serious flaw with the Ministry of Social Development’s systems which saw Mr Peters accidentally overpaid”. Clearly, Mr Jordan recognises “dirty politics” when he sees it – so why can’t this country’s leading political journalists?

We must hope that the answer to that question is not the same in 2017 as it was in 2008. Nine years ago, when Mr Peters was similarly under fire for alleged financial irregularities, there was open collusion between the NZ First leader’s political opponents and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Politicians on the Right wanted Winston and his party out of Parliament. Political journalists were desperate for the sort of information that keeps the punters coming back for more. A biologist would call it a “symbiotic relationship”.

Is the need to preserve and nurture that symbiotic relationship the reason why our leading political journalists have not reacted to the inflammatory “Co-habiting Peters billed $18,000” headline, by demanding to know from which “concerned public service apparatus” that $18,000 figure originated? Is that why the two most obvious suspects: The Ministry of Social Development, which administers NZ Superannuation; and the Inland Revenue Department, which processes New Zealanders’ tax returns; have not been pressured for answers?

For those of us with no skin in this game, that is the question that must not only be asked, but answered. Because, if the information comes from MSD, then a scandalous breach of a citizen’s privacy has occurred. And if Mr Peters’ communications with Inland Revenue have been leaked by someone working inside that particular “public service apparatus”, then whoever received that information has made themselves party to a serious criminal offence.

Always, the critical journalistic question arising out of this sort of political hit is: “Cui bono?” (Who benefits?) Which political party would benefit the most by embarrassing Mr Peters and driving down his party’s support?

Richard Harman, proprietor of the Politik website, has (almost certainly unwittingly) identified one possible beneficiary in his latest posting, “National Sees Path To Power” (28/8/17) in which he states: “National is now going to target Winston Peters and NZ First in the hope of winning one or two per cent of his vote back off him. They believe that will be enough to hold on to power.”

If it is even remotely possible that the so-called “scandal” of Mr Peters’ superannuation overpayments could have been set in motion by persons either within, or aligned to, the National Party (which is certainly, as the party in government, best placed to organise such a “hit”) then why isn’t that the story?

After all, no one is disputing that, upon learning of the MSD’s overpayment of his pension, Mr Peters’ responded by repaying the sum of the overpayment (plus interest) immediately. Also undisputed is the claim that Mr Peters and his partner visited the MSD together in 2010, and that Mr Peters’ details were entered into its database by a senior MSD staff-member. It stretches credulity to suggest that the de facto relationship between the NZ First leader and his partner could somehow have been missed – except by accident. Certainly, Mr Peters is clear that any such “accident” was the MSD’s – not his.

What we have, therefore, is the story of a senior politician who, as a simple citizen (Mr Peters was not an MP in 2010) and accompanied by his partner, registered for NZ Superannuation in person at the Auckland offices of the MSD, and soon thereafter began receiving his pension. Seven years later, that same senior politician is informed by MSD that he has been incorrectly designated and, therefore, overpaid his pension. Immediately, the senior politician makes good the overpaid amount

Some scandal!

And yet, we see the same media dogs who tore Metiria Turei to pieces, now bounding after Mr Peters. They are demanding that he release to them all personal financial records pertaining to his pension. His comfortable personal circumstances are being waved before the public, as if he was some sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. Once again, Mr Peters is being showered with mud by politicians and journalists bound together in what can only be described as an ethically deficient political symbiosis. And, as we all know, mud sticks.

In the movie, Don Corleone survives because his son convinces the hit-men sent to kill him that he is under the protection of men who will not hesitate to fight back. If Winston is looking for a way to both relax and rearm himself in the midst of this politically-motivated and media-driven “scandal”, then he should, perhaps, sit down in front of the nearest TV, with a decent-sized measure of single malt, and take some lessons from The Godfather.

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35 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    The scum are getting scummy.

  2. Cemetery Jones says:

    “If Winston is looking for a way to both relax and rearm himself in the midst of this politically-motivated and media-driven “scandal”, then he should, perhaps, sit down in front of the nearest TV, with a decent-sized measure of single malt, and take some lessons from The Godfather.”

    So, who will wake up next to a horse’s head?

  3. bert says:

    Let’s put things into perspective… Meteria to survive, Winston an overpayment, English rorting the system and then this guy, deliberate.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11912505

  4. Grant says:

    With Winston Peters, they have picked on the wrong guy.
    Winston doesn’t need to watch the Godfather…
    Observing Rob Muldoon operate during his early Parlimentary years taught him everything he needed to know about how not to put up with crap.
    Most of the journalists these days weren’t even born then , are rank amateurs and no match…they should give up or they’ll get burned.
    Come the debates Winston and Jacinda will be the ones to shine.
    Winston has a lot of ammo and a very good memory.
    By poking the bear with a nothing lightweight story as an attempt to impugn his dignity and credibility the journos are now in over their collective heads …. they and National will regret it …

  5. WILD KATIPO says:

    … ” For those of us with no skin in this game, that is the question that must not only be asked, but answered. Because, if the information comes from MSD, then a scandalous breach of a citizen’s privacy has occurred. And if Mr Peters’ communications with Inland Revenue have been leaked by someone working inside that particular “public service apparatus”, then whoever received that information has made themselves party to a serious criminal offence ” …

    ………………………………..

    And this is the crux of the matter.

    And it was also what Peters said in an interview with Duncan Garner.

    We have all had it up to the back teeth with all these bogus ‘journalists’ who selectively try to set up any politician who opposes National. It is the Dirty Politics brigade who are even now very much active in subverting our democratic electoral process by using slanted and misleading ‘ non – journalism ‘ .

    This their last gasp. As we know National will be loosing this election. And we can be sure Adern will not give one inch to these scum shitters.

    There needs to be a complete ‘clearing out’ of these ‘bought and paid for’ political propagandists. These effectively , are the front line foot soldiers of the neo liberal movement.

    By clearing these out we will strike a major blow to the likes of the New Zealand Initiative and their National / Act party enablers.

    • RosieLee says:

      Absolutely right on.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Just watch Duncan Garner this morning at 7am as he broke this as the most damaging scandal that was about to break.

      He looks as though he had some skin inn the game also.

      Just another “storm in a teacup” it was by 7pm 12 hours later.

      MSM are so fuckin stupid then tonight on RNZ John Campbell tried to repeat garner’s attack and failed rather to also look silly also as the final reading of emails came thick and fast accusing john Campbell as making a mountain out of a molehill.

      Most said John we have a lot of other more important issues to deal with right now!!!!!!

    • mjh says:

      Absolutely; these so called journalists are worse than useless, they actively undermine democracy.But there is more to the issue — I know you follow The Standard, and you must have seen the appalling winding up of the attack on Winston Peters today there. “Oh Winston must tell all!” “Winston is a cheat” “Winston has lied to the elderly”…and this is from Labour and Green commenters [at least it is from a small, self selected, self absorbed, self righteous sub-set of Labour/Green commenters]. Are we so sure this bogus non-story, but so able to do harm, is from National?

      • WILD KATIPO says:

        Things don’t stack up here, for one , we have Winston Peters.

        EVERYBODY knows Winston Peters.

        And I find it hard to believe that someone who has made a political career out of looking out for super-annuitants , someone who knows all about superannuation , a leader of one of the larger political party’s and someone who clearly doesn’t particularly need super, – and who paid any over-payments promptly when it was discovered – was actually that foolish .

        Not only did Peters go with his partner into DSW , I’m sure like anybody else he filled in the appropriate forms. The mistake clearly wasn’t Peters mistake at all. And with the negative publicity WINZ has received as of late in the multitude of over-payments, loss of personal details and the very punitive attitude they display , – this can only lead to more suspicion it was a mistake made on the part of DSW.

        I think this is weighted clearly towards as Chris Trotter has pointed out , – a political hit.

        Now , we know English will soon be campaigning in Northland , we also have learnt that National strategists are seeking an extra 2-3 % , and that they seek to take that percentage off of NZ First , – as NZ First has been making inroads into Nationals voting bloc.

        National strategists believe this is all that’s needed to win the election.

        It may or may not involve any direct traceable links but it certainly is a criminal offence as to how that data was leaked , – and certainly the one receiving it is complicit in a crime. One a breach of Privacy , the other disclosing personal details.

        So the question remains, what department was it leaked from , who leaked it and who received that leaked information?

        And , … to what ends?

        Who benefits?

      • patricia bremner says:

        Many on the Standard agree with you. One or two got wound up, but calmed down on reflection. Venting as we call it.

        The real story is the time line. 7 years ago!!!! Just discovered 4 weeks out from a tight election. A sleeper????

  6. Andrea says:

    Thanks, Chris.

    A fair and objective piece.

    If a Labour combo gets in perhaps MSD will finally get an overdue tune-up.

    We can only hope.

    • bert says:

      A complete overhaul of Winz. Employ social workers at Winz instead of Judith Collins or Paula Bennett wannabe’s.

  7. Graham Adams says:

    Very good piece, Chris, but I’m not sure why you write: “Certainly, Mr Peters is clear that any such “accident” was the MSD’s – not his.” One of his problems is that he says no one can work out who made the error… and refuses to blame the MSD or himself. People are asking that he release MSD from privacy constraints so that the relevant document can be released. It’s hard to see why he won’t do that given the matter (fairly or unfairly) is now in the public domain and likely to dog him until the election if he doesn’t clear it up.

    • Z says:

      Bullshit. It has nothing to do with the public apart from the actual source of leak which is a police matter, not for the media to determine.

      And why the fuck would it “dog him” when it barely manages to be top of the fold on stuff and herald.

      And why the fuck should any member of the public be expected to release private information held by an agency because that same agency illegally leaked their info? Your argument only makes sense if you have a blatent political agenda. Fuck off

    • kd says:

      I’m with you Graham, it’s the only factual evidence. Was it filled in correctly and the ‘mistake’ made in processing, or was the ‘mistake’ made in the filling out. And how the heck does a ‘mistake’ get made 7 years ago and get picked up now, SEVEN YEARS later??? Who is benefitting from this, National? New Zealand First? The MSM?

  8. HC says:

    Dirty Politics Make Three, I presume.

    As for privacy, the Privacy Commissioner may agree there was a breach of a principle in the Privacy Act, but what harm was done, they will ask?

    Most Privacy Act complaints end in little more than a minor recommendation to the agency responsible, to please not do the same again, and to perhaps offer more staff training.

    The harm is done, the hit was real, and I fear there will be more to come and others taken out before 23 September.

    So much for one of the least corrupt countries on the planet.

  9. […] Chris Trotter wonders why political journalists aren’t asking the hard questions about who might have ordered this “hit job” on Peters: “Always, the critical journalistic question arising out of this sort of political hit is: “Cui bono?” (Who benefits?) Which political party would benefit the most by embarrassing Mr Peters and driving down his party’s support?” – see: Winston’s Latest “Scandal”: Bureaucratic Bungle, or “Political Hit-Job&#8221…. […]

  10. Christine says:

    The MSD stuffs-up frequently, as well as losing clients’ docs; I advise people to keep p/copies of everything they give to the MSD; most stuff-ups, including “under-payments”, are due to human error, not to dastardly plots or vicious policy. Winston Peters’ support base is largely of an age group probably fairly well aware of MSD stuff-ups, and post-election a few scandal-mongering “journalists” may have the opportunity to become closer acquainted with them too.

    The Peters debacle is ridiculous, but at least he is in a position to rectify whatever error has occurred, unlike others for whom it can be massively stressful and worrying, and only a total moron would think that Peters set out to defraud NZ Super – it is all petty and nasty.

  11. dev says:

    I’m not surprised MSD doesn’t know who made the error, they are completely useless. They are currently pulling $20/week out of my wages but are not able to tell me what it is for.

    Unbelievable.

  12. mjh says:

    Quite right, Chris.

  13. As I stated elsewhere on TDB – I also suspect that this is a dodgy smear campaign against Peters. It ranks up there with the attacks on Metiria Turei, and prior to that, David Cunliffe over the Donghua Liu Affair.

    I have no great love for Peters or his Party. But neither do I want to see the man hounded by a media pack that is after tasty morsels of “juicy red meat” (personal information). That information is not demanded by the media to inform us – no.

    That information is demanded to provide further “evidence” with which to create sensationalist headlines and excoriate Peters, until he suffers the same (or similar) fate as Ms Turei and Mr Cunliffe.

    By the gods, I hope Peters stands his ground and fights back with every gram of political experience at his disposal.

    Political vendettas – aided by a ratings-driven, hyper-commercialised media – cannot be allowed to thrive in our nation.

    • Gosman says:

      James Shaw stated after Turei withdrew from the list that the media was merely doing their job on that matter and he didn’t think they had overstepped the mark.

      • Sam Sam says:

        You need to understand reporting standards are not what you think it is

      • Michelle says:

        yes they always do their job Gosman and their job is to be bias, talk over people and to try and score brownie points. Bring out the broom Jacinda and we will need a big yard broom to get rid of this rubbish. ps. lets do this

    • Mike the Lefty says:

      Frank!
      See how the MSM are noticing National’s dirty politics now that it is against a centre-right politician?
      They ignored it when it was against centre-left David Cunliffe.
      You would have to conclude that dirty politics by the political right against the political left is “just business as usual” as Steven Joyce has said.
      Dirty politics against a centre-right politician with a large popular following like Winston is probably not “business as usual”.

  14. Kim dandy says:

    Interesting how this ‘attack’ from MSM comes so soon after Peters announced one true, ad free, public broadcasting channel would be on the NZ First agenda – go figure!

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Kim Dandy is right,

      The MSM NatZ lapdogs hate any other media that is not controlled by them as they are addicted to the power they now how to mould the media war and thought of the nation.

      Call it propaganda as Joyce uses but I can see that Winton is like a red rag to a bull now since he raised the spectre of a stand alone channel that is free from the corporate controlled media?????

  15. Brian says:

    Wellington bureaucrats are predominantly Labour supporters, so it could well be a leaker there thinks he/she is helping Jacinda in softening up Winston’s aspirations as Kingmaker.
    Very sad to see civil servants leaking if that’s what has occurred.

  16. countryboy says:

    This is a scam. peters needs to appear to be off-side with national so now everybody thinks good old, poor old winnie, lets vote for him.
    Bingo! National/ NZ ‘First’ ( Little bit of sick ) coalition.
    Time to remember the wine box inquiry that wasn’t and that photo of the little prick doing tea with that other prick brash.
    Don’t be played. The whole thing stinks like cheap nachos.

  17. wanafli says:

    What a load of codswallop. This kind of smearing/shit-throwing does not belong anywhere in this day and age. It’s worse than squabbling 2-year-olds loaded up on lollies and raspberry fizz!
    Where is the voice of sanity in the MSM, assuminmg that there actually IS one?
    Or, does National have dirt on them all? Afterall, spying does not stop at one’s enemies, does it? That was the way the USSR used to do it. Find someone with a weakness, then exploit it.
    Come to think of it, is that how Jonkey maintained power? Where’s Normaqn Jones when you need him?

  18. Jake says:

    My family in Te Anau tell me that Nat voters who are pissed off about the Barclay scandal were turning to NZ First….