Beehive knowledge of Peters' pension problem is explosive
OPINION: The revelation that a senior Government minister's office was told by officials about Winston Peters' superannuation problem is as explosive as it is disturbing.
It puts the the Beehive squarely in the frame for leaking Peters' private tax and social welfare records.
There are two other possible explanations. Officials from the Ministry of Social Development or Inland Revenue leaked his records - or Peters himself, or someone close to him, leaked the information.
Both scenarios are still possible, but seem less plausible now that we know at least one Beehive office was briefed.
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Prime Minister Bill English will have questions to answer today about how far up the chain the information went, and he will be asked to categorically rule out one of his ministers or Beehive staff leaking the information to media.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was briefed under the "no surprises" rule two weeks ago.
We now know Deputy PM Paula Bennett was also briefed.
That is also concerning; the no surprises rule is supposed to be there to give ministers a heads-up about issues that might affect the Government.
Peters' pension problems do not fall into that category. Peters has admitted he was overpaid the pension and says he repaid the money as soon as it was bought to his attention. It appears he was paid the single person rate when he was living with his long-time partner Jan Trotman.
That was not a problem the Government needed to be aware of under the no surprises rule.
A spokeswoman for Revenue Minister Judith Collins has confirmed she was never briefed, and the "no surprises" rule does not exist where personal tax details were concerned.
National certainly has good reason for wanting to knock Peters down. If his vote suffers by a even a couple of points it will likely be National that picks them up.
Risky business given that National may need Peters to govern?
Actually, there is a scenario which the Nats have worked out where they could return to Government without needing any coalition allies.
It relies on the Greens and TOPS party falling just short of the 5 per cent threshold and their wasted vote being divvied up between Labour and National. And it relies on Peters being a few points less popular than he is now.
But National also wants to take Peters down a peg because he has cast fear into the hearts of many MPs in provincial New Zealand, where he has been making real strides.
These reasons are not proof the Beehive leaked the Peters story. And Peters is still not off the hook. He should produce the documentation that shows a genuine error occurred, and also be upfront about how much was paid back. His usual show of dissembling and bravado over it makes him look like he has something to hide.
But there are now questions for the Government to answer as well.