Bridges comes out swinging over Budget 'hack' saga, calls for resignations

updated By Jamie Wall

National party leader Simon Bridges has said the budget leak saga "shows deep dishonesty" and the government has "sat on a lie".

During a press conference announcement this morning, Bridges called for the resignations of finance minister Grant Robertson and Treasury head Gabriel Mahklouf.

“Ministers have also been dishonest. Grant Robertson has been playing politics and made it clear it was a hack. He is donkey-deep in this and having been briefed by his Treasury, he must resign. He does not have moral authority to deliver this budget.”

Bridges also said that deputy prime minister Winston Peters has “doubled down on the lie, that he knew what happened and he should apologise for what happened".

“If I hadn’t called this press conference, they would still be sitting on this lie. The secretary of the Treasury must resign."

Bridges’ press conference comes after it was revealed this morning that information regarding the 2019 budget accessed earlier was not done so illegally by the National Party.

The revelation comes after the Treasury alleged that its website had been hacked for the information earlier this week.

However, it now appears that the information was found completely by chance, with National Party policy advisers coming across the documents by using Treasury's search feature. The new budget information had been made accessible seemingly in error.

Despite the blunder, Treasury said the evidence still showed "deliberate, systematic and persistent searching of a website that was clearly not intended to be public".

While State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said unauthorised access to confidential budget material "is a very serious matter," police have advised they will take no further action.

How the budget information was accessed early

According to a Treasury statement, the information on the budget was accessed early via a clone website.

"As part of its preparation for Budget 2019, the Treasury developed a clone of its website. Budget information was added to the clone website as and when each Budget document was finalised. On Budget Day, the Treasury intended to swap the clone website to the live website so that the Budget 2019 information was available online. The clone website was not publicly accessible, the statement from the Treasury said.

"As part of the search function on the website, content is indexed to make the search faster. Search results can be presented with the text in the document that surrounds the search phrase. The clone also copies all settings for the website including where the index resides. This led to the index on the live site also containing entries for content that was published only on the clone site, as a result, a specifically-worded search would be able to surface small amounts of content from the 2019/20 estimates documents.

Recreation of how the searches were carried out. Source: Parliament

Response from Finance Minister Grant Robertson

Robertson says he was very disappointed that confidential Budget information was able to be accessed in this way.

“I am also very disappointed that the Treasury did not seek to find more information as to how this happened before referring the matter to the Police, he said in a statement today. 

“I now await the inquiry of the State Services Commissioner into this matter."

Today he says he's focussed on delivering the Wellbeing Budget, "which will start to fix many of the long-term problems facing New Zealand.”