The Press editorial:
More than a week has passed since Finance Minister Grant Robertson issued one of the most remarkable statements in recent New Zealand politics. It came just 16 minutes after an alarming media release from the Treasury claimed its “systems [had] been deliberately and systematically hacked”. A hack sounded bad, but Robertson went even further.
Although the context was National’s dramatic release of Budget information earlier that day – information we now know was sourced through good old-fashioned Google searches rather than dastardly hacking – the Treasury did not name a likely culprit. Robertson moved closer to joining the dots when he said “we have contacted the National Party tonight to request that they do not release any further material, given that the Treasury said they have sufficient evidence that indicates the material is a result of a systematic hack and is now subject to a Police investigation”.
It is important to note that Robertson did explicitly link National to the claimed criminal activity.
Did Makhlouf deliberately mislead the Finance Minister before they both issued statements about the “hack”? Did Makhlouf waste police time? Did he knowingly mislead the public with his analogy about the site being like a locked room where the bolt has been broken? Did he politicise a position and a department that should always be rigorously neutral when he allowed Robertson to connect National to a fictitious hack?
The answer appears to be yes to all four questions, but the SSC inquiry needs to determine this.
The inquiry has to be both fast and thorough. For his own sake and ours, Makhlouf will need to assure Deputy State Services Commissioner John Ombler he acted in good faith. Robertson, on the other hand, is sure to be feeling relieved that the State Services Commission does not have the remit to investigate ministers.
And this is why we need a full independent inquiry. Regardless of the role Malhlouf played, it is inconceivable that Ministers were not aware well before Thursday that there had been no hack – yet they said nothing and Robertson did not retract his statement.
The SSC inquiry is an internal one, by a Deputy SSC. It has no powers and no remit to look at anyone beyond the Treasury Secretary.
If the Government has nothing to hide, it should appoint a QC to do a full independent inquiry which includes actions of Ministers, ministerial staff and all agencies.
Unless one thinks there is nothing wrong with accusing the opposition of criminal activity because a parliamentary secretary used the Treasury search engine.