Rutherford on Peters


As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern relocated to Auckland on Monday, in preparation for giving birth, circumstances combined to mark the occasion with two extraordinary Peters power plays.

First, he humiliated Andrew Little by refusing to support penal reform, after the justice minister had foolishly announced in advance that a paper was going before the Cabinet.

Little has pointed to cryptic remarks by Peters, seemingly justifying Little’s confidence that NZ First would support repealing the so-called “three strikes” legislation.

Given that Peters is famously hard to pin down on anything, if that really is all Little was basing his confidence in NZ First’

And Little has now made it far harder for himself to get any other reforms done.

But NZ First’s refusal to support Little’s penal reform pales in comparison to what would emerge on Monday evening.

Peters, still smarting over the alleged leaking of his superannuation overpayment in 2017, was taking legal action against State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes and another top public servant.

Forget that Peters is also suing two former National ministers (although that too is an unnecessary distraction for the Government).

Hughes is effectively the head of the public sector. The soon-to-be-acting prime minister taking this action is effectively the Government suing itself.

With taxpayers footing the bill.

The good news is that, according to descriptions from those who have worked alongside him, Hughes is the absolute last person in the public sector you would want to mess with. Peters may live to regret including him.

What Peters may regret is that presumably MSD in its defence will include details about the over-payments such as whether the form Peters signed stated he was single and whether or not he got annual letters asking him to confirm the (incorrect) single status. It may be that it was all a typo error caused by an MSD staffer, and Peters is blameless. But we don’t know as he won’t do a privacy release. However by suing the MSD CE, they presumably are entitled to use that information in their defence.

Ardern, who learned of the legal action just hours before the rest of us, has attempted to describe the action as a “private matter”, an absurd attempt by the prime minister to avoid the obvious: she is not in control of her deputy.

The Acting Prime Minister suing the top public servant is not a private matter.

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