'The advice we had' - Grant Robertson defends his initial description of pre-Budget release as hacking

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has tonight defended his handling of the pre-Budget release scandal, saying his initial description of it as hacking was based on the advice he had at the time from Treasury.

The State Services Commission is investigating Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf after the National Party accessed sensitive, confidential Budget information by searching the Treasury website.

On advice from his official, Mr Robertson initially claimed the information was obtained by a systematic hack. But that wasn't the case.

"We were relying on the advice that we had at the time. We didn't know what had happened. That's what the police were looking into," Mr Robertson told TVNZ's Q+A tonight.

Asked why he would use the world 'hacking' in the first place," Mr Robertson said: "What I actually said was that Treasury had described it as that. And that was the advice I had at that time."

Q+A understands, however, that Treasury had had advice at that point from the GCSB that their system had not been compromised. 

Mr Robertson was asked if he's satisfied that as the minister responsible he sufficiently challenged Gabriel Makhlouf's description of what had happened.

"I'm on record as saying that Mr Makhlouf was very clear in his description to me of what he described as 2000 or so attempts to hack into the Treasury system," he replied.

"That's the advice I was working on. The other matters are matters the State Services Commission is no doubt going to be inquiring into."

Mr Robertson said the question of whether Mr Makhlouf misled him "is exactly the matter the State Services Commission is inquiring into and I'm not going to comment on it”.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes is investigating whether Mr Makhlouf misled the Government about how the sensitive Budget information was accessed.

Mr Makhlouf remains in his role but is leaving later this month to take up a position as head of the Irish Central Bank.

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The Finance Minister says what he actually said after the incident was that Treasury had described it as hacking. Source: Q+A

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