Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Winston making accusations of 'dirty politics'; Labour's big education spend due

Gareth Morgan used the Winston Peters' superannuation overpayment issue to make a point about "the broken benefit system" which TOP wants to change by means-testing super. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we detail the follow up to the leaking of Winston Peters' superannuation information.

1. Now the post mortem

Winston Peters has jumped on the warpath over the leaking of his superannuation details to the media, saying he would make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner and had investigators working on uncovering the source of the leak.

Without accusing anyone in the Government, Peters said last night the affairs smacked of "Dirty Politics."

The issue has the potential to be awkward for the Government as the Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, confirmed to Newsroom this morning that MSD officials had briefed her on August 15 about the meeting between MSD officials and Peters under the 'no surprises' policy.

Tolley then briefed the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Wayne Eagleson The NZ Herald reported. Eagleson had not told Bill English or anyone else in the office about the issue.

Tolley's office has denied the leak came from her office.

National's Campaign Manager Steven Joyce has denied knowing about the issue until it was reported late on Sunday.

"All I know is it's got nothing to do with us. I have no idea where it came from so I'm not going to suddenly blame people," Joyce said.

Fairfax reported this morning that Paula Bennett had also been briefed about the issue by the State Services Commission.

Peters told reporters in Northland last night that he had "deep suspicions" about who had leaked the information.

"Someone decided they would break the law and leak it in a political way and some of those tweets and other comments point to knowledge out there that it was malicious and politically dirty," he was reported as saying by Fairfax.

"I'm not going to stand by and let someone get away with blatant dirty politics and breaking the law," he said.

Fairfax reported this morning that Peters said he had been warned that someone in the National Party was "trying to take him down."

Newshub's Paddy Gower said this morning Newshub was tipped off three days after the Government was briefed.

Both Jacinda Ardern and English were cautious late yesterday and this morning to not criticise Peters.

Ardern was sympathetic to Peters and the Government in interviews on Newshub and Morning Report this morning. She said it would be disappointing if National had leaked the information and she didn't want to be part of that sort of politics.

"But I want to be really clear here - just because Anne Tolley received the information doesn't mean she is the source of the leak," she said.

Ardern later told Morning Report that the Metiria Turei and Winston Peters situations were different. She said she had ruled Turei out of being in her cabinet after seeing a lot of information, while she said Peters' situation looked like a mistake.

Bill English told media in Hamilton where he was opening the new Rototuna High School that Peters' comments had not given him cause for concern, although there were still questions to be answered.

"People make mistakes, we're all human. It's just a matter of what the particular circumstances are," English said.

2. Show us the document

Peters repeatedly refused yesterday to say how much he had paid to the MSD in over-payments, penalties and interest.

He initially denied there were $18,000 in over-payments to return, describing Newsroom's report as "demonstrably false," but in later reports agreed that the penalties and interest payments were large.

Newsroom reported yesterday he had been billed $18,000 and had paid MSD that amount immediately. The $18,000 Newsroom cited includes over-payments, penalties and interest for the nearly seven years of over-payments of pension at the single rate when he was meant to be receiving the couple's rate.

Newsroom did not claim that his payment back to the state was for the superannuation over-payment only, and stands by the bill of $18,000.

Peters confirmed to RNZ late in the day he had been receiving the single's rate.

Peters said he had received a letter from the MSD alerting him to the overpayment.

This letter is believed to have contained the amount, which the MP is determined to keep secret.

It is the single document which Peters appears under most pressure to make public, as Newsroom's Tim Murphy reported yesterday.

Peters also refused to either accept the blame for the mistake, or to blame MSD.

"Let's not blame MSD any more than blame me," he told Newshub's Duncan Garner yesterday morning. "I would love to be able to say who made the mistake but I cannot."

He rejected calls to waive his rights to privacy to allow the ministry to disclose details of his application, of the letter he received and the payment made.

The privacy issue could be complicated by this case having arisen out of Jan Trotman's superannuation application, with her privacy also under consideration.

But he could still release the details of the letter from MSD to himself.

MSD said yesterday the matter had been resolved to their satisfaction. Both MSD and IRD said they were looking into suggestions information had leaked from their ministries.

3. A debate about means testing

Elsewhere on the trail, The Opportunities Party (TOP) released its list and Leader Gareth Morgan took the opportunity to question the lack of means testing for New Zealand Superannuation.

"A better use of NZ Super would be giving it to struggling families rather than people on 180k," Morgan said.

TOP's policy is for an 'Elders Universal Basic Income' that sees everyone over the age of 65 receive an income of at least $10,000 per annum, but those earning more than $50,000 would not receive more than the $10,000 in pension payments. TOP's policy is here.

Morgan said Peters was another superannuitant getting more than his fair share of the benefits, although he credited Peters with paying the money back.

"The fact that he didn't even notice that he was getting overpaid tell us just how broken our benefit system is," Morgan told a news conference.

"I don't know how many bottles of whiskey or packets of cigarettes Winston has brought with his overpayment, and is not our business, but I do know that with an annual income of close to 200 K he does not need the full $20,000 extra from the workers of today to keep him in the manner which he has obviously become accustomed to," he said.

"TOP is planning to means test the second $10,000 in national super and pass the savings on to young families with children under three as a $200 a week UBI. We will also be using the National Party's upper and middle class tax cut and give that 2.5 billion to give a UBI to young New Zealanders 18 to 23."

Morgan said he and his wife Joanne would receive New Zealand Superannuation of around $40,000 next year.

"I don't need a cent of it. What the hell are you doing when we have the amount of poverty and social dysfunction in New Zealand? It's just nuts. I am just going to buy a motorcycle with it, and all my mates just use it to go to Fiji."

Morgan also announced TOP's East Coast Bays candidate Teresa Moore, a former Green Party member would become the party's deputy co-leader alongside current deputy leader Geoff Simmons.

He said TOP would stay on the cross benches and vote bill by bill on issues, although it would agree to a confidence and supply agreement with the Government.

4. Labour's tourism levy

Apart from the dramas around Peters' pension payments, there was some actual policy announced on the campaign trail.

Labour's Tourism spokesman Kris Faafoi announced in Rotorua that a Labour Government would impose a $25 levy on international visitors to pay for a $75 million Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund, although he was vague about how it would be collected.

“The Tourism and Conversation Infrastructure Fund will contribute $45m a year to tourism infrastructure and training, with a particular focus on high demand areas. It will also invest $30m in protecting and enhancing our natural environment, as well as the infrastructure tourists use on conservation land," Faafoi said.

“It’s only fair that the cost of these important projects is recouped from the international visitors that enjoy them," he said, adding there was no evidence that a levy of less than one percent of the average tourist spend would hurt tourism.

"In fact, after National introduced a $22 border charge, passenger numbers rose faster than expected."

Faafoi said the levy would likely be in the form of an airline ticket tax or a border tax. He said Labour wanted to work with officials and customs to find the most efficient way to collect the levy.

The border clearance levy was introduced last July, but it applies to all arrivals, including New Zealand citizens and residents. Labour has said citizens and residents would not have to pay the levy. That may prove tricky to achieve.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, a former Labour MP, welcomed the announcement and said the funding would be put towards some big projects the Rotorua council wanted to fund, including the Lakefront Development.

Steven Joyce criticised Labour for introducing another tax that was lacking in detail.

“They say it would be linked to the Border Clearance Levy, but that’s paid by everyone that crosses the border. Will they need to set up another bureaucracy to identify the visitors from everyone else? Or maybe a working group to work it out?" Joyce said.

5. A big tertiary education plan

Jacinda Ardern is set to make a big tertiary education announcement in Auckland later this morning that will also coincide with Labour's reworked fiscal plan.

Ardern is expected to make announcements about Labour's plan for three years tertiary education by 2025, including the potential to bring it forward by a few years. It is also expected to look at the level of student allowances.

We will have coverage of the announcements on Newsroom Pro when they emerge later this morning.

6. Keep an eye on NZ First's list

Amid all the noise around Winston Peters, a potentially more important announcement will come out from New Zealand First later today.

The Party will release its list later this afternoon and there is speculation Shane Jones may have a relatively low list place. That could prove problematic, given Jones is behind National's Shane Reti in Whangarei and Jones had been expected to step up to the leadership if Peters ever resigns.

Ron Mark's position will be closely watched too. There is speculation he could win his Wairarapa electorate from National incumbent Alastair Scott. Private polls are said to put Mark ahead there.

7. Coming up...

The Reserve Bank announced departing Governor Graeme Wheeler would release a speech on Wednesday afternoon entitled: “Reflections on the stewardship of the Reserve Bank." He previewed the speech explaining his record in his Monetary Policy Statement news conference earlier this month. He finishes formally on September 27.

Bill English is scheduled to make a policy announcement in Nelson later today with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to make an education announcement later this morning in Auckland. Tim Murphy will be covering the event for Newsroom.

The countdown:

August 31 - The first leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 4 - TV3 has its leaders debate.

September 7 - The Press/Stuff leaders debate will be held in Christchurch

September 11 - Polling booths open for early voting.

September 20 - The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 - The General Election.

October 12 - Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he 'crowns' to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned.

8. One fun thing

This isn't so much fun as just plain astounding.

The New York Times reports this morning that a business associate of Donald Trump, Felix Sater, wrote in an email to Trump's lawyer about a potential Trump Tower in Moscow that:

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."

That's some sort of gun with smoke coming out of it.