Monday marks the start of a three week hearing in the Auckland High Court over the leak of Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayment to the media. Winston has been greatly offended, to the tune of $1.8 million dollars and wants to get it at the taxpayers’ expense.
“The Deputy PM wants $450,000 in damages from each of the named defendants, meaning a total of $1.8 million if he pursues all of those monetary claims listed in early court documents. Any damages awarded would be covered by the taxpayer under an arrangement authorised by the Cabinet. Taxpayers are also paying for the two Queens Counsel and legal teams.”
He claims he is the wounded party. How dare his integrity be questioned? The amount in question is $18,000 over 7 years. Annually this is just $2571 and seems to have arisen because of the difference between the single sharing and married rates of NZ Super:
“Couples where only one partner qualifies for NZS may choose not to undergo the income test. In this situation the eligible person receives the married rate, which is half of the couple rate, and their non-qualified partner does not receive NZS.”
The distinction between the rates that gave rise to this absurd waste of money is at the heart of this problem, along with the question-why we are so kind to the wealthiest in this country?
Charitably, we might understand what has happened: Winston is part of the group of very highly paid and wealthy superannuitants who would not have spent a second even thinking about how much he was getting, wouldn’t be able to tell you how much he was getting, would not have noticed the winter energy payment got added on for a few months and then removed, would have ignored the letters that everyone gets to verify their relationship status.
He may have thought that since his partner was not on Super that he was single for the purposes of NZS Super. Let’s forgive him and move on. He needs to say sorry, and also move on for all our sakes. A hurt pride is no reason to commit taxpayers to a wasteful three weeks in court and heaven forbid an actual settlement of up to $1.8 m. The courts are not coping with the real life, much more serious cases right now.
Perhaps he could turn his mind to supporting better retirement income policies including aligning the single and married rates as the RPRC has recommended in their paper for the Current Retirement Incomes review on fiscal sustainability.
The Ministry of Social Development uses weak 19th century logic to defend the difference in rates. They say with a straight face:
A married couple:
- could be able to enjoy lower accommodation costs than two single people
- could be able to have their personal household effects on one insurance policy whereas two single people who are sharing accommodation would be more likely to have separate insurance costs totaling a higher amount
- could share vehicle expenses, while two single people may be more likely to have their own individual transport and vehicle costs
- could generally share meals, while two single people sharing accommodation may not have merged their lives to that extent.
What does it take for common sense to prevail?