Was the early budget release merely 'point-scoring'?

The AM Show 04/06/2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the public will view the events of last week, which included the early release of Budget details, only as "point-scoring" that didn't benefit anyone.

On Tuesday last week, the National Party revealed details of the Wellbeing Budget two days before the official announcement - some of which the Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, admitted were correct.

Later that evening, Treasury, which has access to Budget information, released a statement saying there was sufficient evidence to show its systems had been deliberately and systematically hacked.

But on Thursday, the department released a statement saying that it had been advised by police that it appeared someone had "exploited a feature in the website search tool", which "does not appear to be unlawful".

National leader Simon Bridges called for the resignation of Treasury head Gabriel Makhlouf, who he said had known no complex hacking had occurred but had attempted to cover it up.

Treasury has known since Tuesday exactly what happened and they covered it up to cover their incompetence.

He also wanted Robertson's head to roll, saying the Minister had alleged the information National had about the Budget came as from a hack. Robertson denies making such an accusation.

But Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday that, ultimately, last week the public would have only heard political point-scoring.

"Do you know what I think all the public heard? All I think the public heard was point-scoring, that is all I think they heard," she said.

I don't think, ultimately, that benefits anyone much.

She was pushed by The AM Show host Duncan Garner on whether she had asked Makhlouf, who is already set to leave the job soon, to stand down.

"No, and nor would that be my job. He is ultimately hired through the State Services Commission, not directly by politicians."

The State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes is looking into the "adequacy of Treasury policies, systems and processes for managing Budget security" and considering looking into if Robertson was misled by Makhlouf about how the Budget details were accessed.

Ardern reserved her judgement on whether she had confidence in Makhlouf in terms of how he dealt with last week's events but said she was pleased with how he helped the Government deliver the Budget.

"On the Budget, absolutely, on the smaller question of whether or not we had a secure website and the events that transpired after that, I am going to make sure I look at what the State Services Commissions tells me before I jump to any judgements there."

It comes after Robertson told The AM Show on Friday that while he also had confidence in the leadership Makhlouf had shown with the Budget, he stopped short of saying he retained confidence in him now as the agency's head.

National's pre-Budget play has been criticised by some political commentators, who say there was little public interest in releasing the Budget details just days before they were going to be released anyway.

Political commentator Chris Trotter told The AM Show last week that National could have come out of the scandal cleaner if they had simply revealed there had been a hole in the Government's defences, but not actually released the numbers.

"What I probably would have tried to do is first of all tell the Government 'you've got a leak, I am getting information, this is a very serious breach of security' and somehow allow people like yourself Duncan to know that there had been a leak.'

Then all the pressure would have come on the Government... but no fingerprints for the National Party.

But Bridges has dismissed those arguments, saying it was the Opposition's role to show the Government's incompetence.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor