New Zealand budget in disarray as hackers raid Treasury systems

New Zealand’s annual budget has been thrown into disarray after the opposition National Party released parts of it early and the Treasury Department said its computer systems had been hacked.

Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf has called in police after finding evidence that the department’s computer systems had been “deliberately and systematically hacked,” he said in a statement late Tuesday in Wellington. But National Party leader Simon Bridges said the party acted “entirely appropriately” in obtaining the budget information.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson “has falsely smeared us to cover up his and the Treasury’s incompetence,” Bridges said in a tweet. “When what has occurred is revealed, he will need to resign.”

The dramatic events are overshadowing the government’s so-called “Wellbeing Budget,” due for release on May 30. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promoted it as a fresh approach that focuses on metrics that matter to people’s lives rather than just economic growth.

Makhlouf said Treasury has discovered more than 2 000 attempts to access secret budget documents on its computer systems since Sunday night.

The information obtained by the hacker appeared to match some of the material released by Bridges, he told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday morning, while refusing to directly link the National Party to the hack.

Bridges yesterday revealed what he said were “key details” of the budget, such as spending plans for defense and health, without saying where he got the information. So far no information that might be market-sensitive, such as budget surplus or net debt projections, has been released.

Bridges used the information to claim the budget was designed to appease Ardern’s coalition partner New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters.

“It’s not the Wellbeing Budget, it’s the Winston Budget,” he said. “The Wellbeing Budget was meant to be transformational, but it’s all spin and no substance.”

Robertson confirmed some of the numbers released by the opposition were correct and called on Bridges not to release any further material. The hacking of budget information was “extremely serious” and it was now a matter for police, he said.

He indicated the budget will go ahead as planned.

“What New Zealanders care about are the issues that will be dealt with in the Wellbeing Budget on Thursday, and that is what we continue to be focused on,” Robertson said.

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