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

Press secretary leak: Paula Bennett and the reporter she crossed swords with

The TVNZ journalist Paula Bennett's press secretary leaked to was Rebecca Wright - a journalist with whom the Social Housing Minister has crossed swords in the past, including taking an unsuccessful complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

The minister's press secretary told Ms Wright about a police investigation into the handling of a case by Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis, after Mr Dennis informed the minister about the matter in a private meeting last week.

The police investigation is not a criminal investigation into Mr Dennis personally, who could not be immediately reached for comment today.

Opposition MPs have claimed that the press secretary, Lucy Bennett, must have passed on the information with the minister's permission. Paula Bennett has denied this, saying the first she knew about the leak was when a Radio NZ reporter asked her about it on Tuesday.

She has described the leak as inappropriate and has apologised to Mr Dennis, who is on leave from his role as police inspector and iwi liaison officer while the investigation is underway.

RNZ was the first to ask the minister about the leak. It is not known how RNZ found out about it.

Ms Wright has not responded to requests for comment. Lucy Bennett, who is not related to the minister, declined to comment or confirm Ms Wright was the journalist she spoke to.

John Gillespie, TVNZ's Head of News and Current Affairs, said TVNZ had already confirmed a One News journalist was approached with information. "We're not naming the journalist because they're not the story here."

Paula Bennett had run-ins with Ms Wright in 2010 and 2011 when the reporter worked for 3 News in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Broadcasting Standards Authority archives show that Wright is the only journalist the minister has lodged a formal BSA complaint against.

In 2010, Paula Bennett took Ms Wright to the BSA over a story about claims the minister had offered money to solo mother Natasha Fuller to drop a privacy complaint.

Ms Fuller later admitted she had made up the claims, which were contained in online messages to a friend obtained by TV3. The BSA case was struck out by the High Court on technical grounds before the BSA made a decision on its merits.

In her complaint to 3 News, Paula Bennett said the allegations were "malicious, completely without merit and ... [potentially] defamatory", and Ms Wright had treated her unfairly, including refusing to show her the messages containing the claims.

In 2009, Paula Bennett had released details of Ms Fuller's income from benefits to the Herald after Ms Fuller spoke out against cuts to the Training Incentive Allowance. That case is being cited by the Opposition as evidence Ms Bennett has a track record in releasing personal information for political purposes.

In 2011, Ms Wright investigated the Ministry of Social Development's Community Max scheme, which embarrassed Paula Bennett and the department and prompted a complaint from MSD to the BSA, which was not upheld by the BSA.

Lucy Bennett was a journalist with NZME's predecessor company APN until February last year when she took up a job as a press secretary for Sam Lotu-Iiga and then Paula Bennett.

Paula Bennett has said the press secretary had offered her resignation but she had turned it down.

- NZ Herald

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