Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

No apology from Bennett over leaked income data

Paula Bennett. Photo / Richard Robinson
Paula Bennett. Photo / Richard Robinson

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has refused to apologise to a single mother whose income details she released in 2009 - and will not rule out taking the same action again in the future.

The Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings Robert Hesketh yesterday said a privacy breach complaint by single mother Natasha Fuller against Ms Bennett in 2009 had been resolved and no proceedings would be taken.

However, he also released a letter which made it clear Mr Hesketh believed there had been a privacy breach by Ms Bennett - something Ms Bennett said she disagreed with.

The complaint dated back to July 2009 when Ms Bennett provided the benefit details of Ms Fuller and another single mother to the Herald after they criticised Ms Bennett's decision to scale back the Training Incentive Allowance.

Yesterday, Mr Hesketh released a letter to him from Ms Bennett as part of the agreed resolution between the parties concerned. In it, she said she had released the details because they were relevant to the debate at the time.

"I acknowledge that you consider that I was wrong to do so and that this resulted in a breach of Ms Fuller's privacy. As you also know, I do not accept that view."

When asked yesterday if she would do the same thing again, Ms Bennett would not rule it out, but said she was more experienced and would seek advice.

"It would depend on the circumstances but I'm not going to make a judgement on what may or may not happen. I'd make a call at the time."

Labour leader David Shearer said Ms Bennett had clearly overstepped the mark and Prime Minister John Key needed to call her to account.

"John Key should take a good look at this case. He says he's comfortable with it. I say he should set a higher bar for his ministers."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Ms Bennett should give an assurance it would not happen again.

"The fact Paula Bennett is refusing to apologise or accept she did anything wrong is a very serious concern for the Prime Minister if she is to remain a minister in his Government."

However, acting Prime Minister Bill English said the complaint was politically motivated and people who spoke out publicly should provide all the relevant information when they did so.

She told media she would not apologise because she did not believe she had breached Ms Fuller's privacy. In the letter she repeated her regret at the personal cost of the public reaction on Ms Fuller, saying she had been shocked by it.

As part of the agreement, all sides had agreed not to comment on it further - something Ms Bennett refers to in her letter. Ms Fuller did not respond to requests for comment last night. The day before she wrote "no comment" on her Facebook page, saying it was intended for the media.

Ms Fuller had first complained to the Privacy Commissioner in 2009, who subsequently referred it to the director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings after being unable to reach a settlement.

- NZ Herald

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