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Yesterdaze: Budget fiasco’s withering plight

Budget week chaos revealed there were no hacks of Treasury, but did raise the question how many hacks work at Treasury. James rubs hands together over this week's political news. 

This week we learned that Alfred Ngaro canned the idea of setting up a Christian Party, Winston Peters is referred to in Chinese media as “old naughty”, “old fart” or “old bum” depending on your choice of Chinese dialect, and the owners of a Noah’s Ark theme park in the United States are suing their insurers for rain damage.

Tempting as it may be to comment on Ngaro, naughty and Noah, these events were all overshadowed by the 2019 Budget that was not so much about Well Being as it was about being well and truly bungled. 

A genuine cascade of calamity and claims and counterclaims of conspiracy took place between Tuesday and Thursday involving National, Labour, Treasury, the police and even the GCSB. Given the seriousness of the issues, the parties involved and the potential consequences, it’s important to provide a thorough and accurate summary of those events. So here goes - National searched the Treasury website and found Budget 2019 documents.   

So before anyone even had time to label the story Budgetgate, Treasurygate or possibly Googlegate we went from crisis to a fiasco best labelled The-Gate-Is-Open-Please-Come-In-And-Help-Yourself-To-Whatever-You-Want-Gate.     

That’s where we landed, eventually. But it was as fairly bumpy ride to get there. First, National claimed to have Treasury papers about the 2019 Budget. Then Labour claimed that National must have got that information illegally. National insisted they hadn’t been involved in anything illegal. Enter Treasury who claimed their website had been hacked “deliberately and systematically” and lodged a police complaint. Enter Treasury again at 5am the following day to advise that their website hadn’t been hacked but rather that a feature in their website search tool had been exploited. So, no hacks of Treasury but an open question as to how many hacks work at Treasury.                  

The Treasury’s 5am confessional was quite the turn-around from the description that Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf had given only a matter of hours before. He likened the Treasury website to a secure padlocked room which had been broken into by “unknown actors” who had hammered away at a door bolt 2000 times, prised the door open and then made off with the Budget documents. It turned out that a better analogy would have been that the Budget documents were simply sitting in a pile on an outside table in Courtenay Place, with a label saying “Budget 2019”. On a blustery day.  Without a paper weight.   

So before anyone even had time to label the story Budgetgate, Treasurygate or possibly Googlegate we went from crisis to a fiasco best labelled The-Gate-Is-Open-Please-Come-In-And-Help-Yourself-To-Whatever-You-Want-Gate.

Twyford pledged that he’d have a dozen ties available for Grant to choose from by Thursday morning. Later he clarified that it wasn’t really a pledge so much as a hope and that a dozen ties wasn’t really a target.

Enter Simon Bridges who had one of his better weeks as leader of the opposition. When Bridges gleefully announced that he had got his hands on Budget information ahead of time he looked like the kid in the playground who’s just realised that he’s got all the water balloons and all the other kids have none. For Bridges it was more Treasurygloat than Treasurygate. “Incompetent and bungling” he cried, relishing the opportunity to project onto Grant Robertson and Gabriel Makhlouf. Bridges then called for both Robertson and Makhlouf to resign. Judith Collins’ pulse quickened just a little when she saw media reports of “Simon Bridges” and “resign” in the same sentence.     

And Bridges would surely have been able to claim Treasury Secretary Makhlouf’s scalp but for the fact that he had already resigned a little while ago to take up the role of Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland later this year. If you want to learn more about Makhlouf’s Irish appointment you can search on the Irish Central Bank’s website at www.centralbank.ie.  In fact Makhlouf’s experiences this week may well turn out to be helpful in his new role given that the Irish Central Bank’s website has this Accessibility Statement: “The Central Bank is committed to providing a website that is accessible to the widest possible audience, regardless of technology or ability.”               

Which brings us to Phil Twyford. One smaller side-effect of the hacking hullaballoo was that Grant Robertson simply didn’t have time to attend to the important convention of picking a tie that best matches the tone of the Budget. So KiwiBuild Minister Phil Twyford stepped in to help. He pledged that he’d have a dozen ties available for Grant to choose from by Thursday morning. Later he clarified that it wasn’t really a pledge so much as a hope and that a dozen ties wasn’t really a target so that the number of ties to be available on Thursday could be any number between twelve and zero. By Wednesday evening Twyford still couldn’t say how many ties would be available on Thursday but confirmed that at least three ties were under construction. On Thursday morning Twyford told Grant that he might have to get used to the idea that not everyone can have a tie. Good thing then that Grant realized that he needed to arrange his own tie as soon as Phil had pledged to help him.          

Have a peaceful long weekend.

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