National leader Simon Bridges has accused the Government of leading a “witch hunt” against his party, after Treasury allegations of a hack related to Budget 2019 figures.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears to be shifting any blame over the hack allegations to the Treasury, saying the decision to refer the matter to police was not a government call.
Simon Bridges has come under pressure to explain how National obtained information from Thursday’s inaugural Wellbeing Budget, after the Treasury called police on Tuesday night over what it described as a “deliberate and systematic” hack of its systems.
Bridges drip-fed the media and the public appropriations figures from the Budget over the course of Tuesday, in an attempt to take the wind out of what is usually a PR blitz for the government of the day.
However, the Treasury’s claims – and Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s support of them – has put National on the back foot.
Speaking to media on Wednesday morning, Bridges said the hacking claims were false and that there had been “no hacking under any definition of that word”.
“We’ve got a Beehive where it’s amateur hour, and the reality is they are incredibly embarrassed, they’re not in control of what they are doing, and so they’re lashing out and they are having a witch hunt on the National Party.”
Bridges said his party had acted “entirely appropriately the whole way through this matter”, and denied there had been any illegal actions to obtain the information.
“I’m aware there’s people out there saying, well there’s legal hacking and then there’s other things – well there’s none of that.”
However, he refused to reveal anything about how exactly National had come to be in possession of the Budget information.
“He [Grant Robertson] is lying, he is smearing the National Party falsely with what he is doing and he is overseeing gross incompetence in Treasury right now and over the last 24 hours, and look that starts at the top with him.”
Bridges said Robertson’s request that National not release any further information following the hacking claims was “an undemocratic outrage” and an attempt to gag the Opposition.
“What annoys me here frankly is that it should be Grant Robertson here right now explaining and fronting up, because he is misleading New Zealanders – in fact, I’d go so far as to say he is lying, he is smearing the National Party falsely with what he is doing and he is overseeing gross incompetence in Treasury right now and over the last 24 hours, and look that starts at the top with him.”
Bridges also accused the Treasury of misleading New Zealanders – although he later walked back any suggestion that he was implying a political conspiracy against his party involving the government department.
Speaking to media after a mental health announcement, Ardern would not take any responsibility for the hacking allegations, saying Treasury was responsible for the response and referral to the police.
Asked whether the buck needed to stop with Robertson as the Finance Minister, she said there could be questions further down the line about the resourcing that Treasury had.
Last night, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf said his organisation had “gathered sufficient evidence to indicate that its systems have been deliberately and systematically hacked”. He later told RNZ more than 2000 unauthorised attempts had been made to access information from Treasury’s systems.