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Minister At Odds With Committee Over WINZ Payout

Minister At Odds With Committee Over WINZ Secret Payout

The Minister of Social Services is at odds with Labour MPs on the Social Services Select Committee who yesterday heavily criticised the ‘shroud of secrecy’ thrown over the WINZ charter flight debacle because of the out of court settlement with a former WINZ Manager.

ACT Social Welfare Spokesman Muriel Newman said she was pleased the Committee was sticking to its guns and would continue to probe the total cost of the Wairakei conference and its fall out including the secret settlement with the WINZ manager.

In sharp contrast to the Committee, Social Services Minister Steve Maharey is refusing any further work on the unanswered questions surrounding the charter flights including who was responsible. Dr Newman asked the Minister whether he considered that there are any remaining matters outstanding as a result of the out of court settlement with the former senior manager of Work and Income resulting from the charter flight incident. The Minister replied that “Issues around the ‘charter flight incident’ have been fully canvassed in the media and in other fora. I see no need to comment further.”

“The Minister of Social Services, in Opposition, said he was concerned that the personal grievance might be settled out of Court and the public would never know what happened. Yet now he is in a position to tell New Zealanders the facts, he is ignoring the issue. It is clear that his repeated uncontrolled personal attacks on Christine Rankin have left him with the very real prospect of her taking a massive personal grievance claim against him,” said Muriel Newman.

“The advice I have sought on secrecy surrounding the charter flights says that the public does have a right to know who was responsible and that Parliament has a duty to probe that. The settlement between WINZ and the manager is no excuse for the lack of openness, transparency and accountability that still surrounds this issue,” she said.

The Committee’s Report was released on the same day a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Dr Newman to stop secret settlements with public sector employees, was drawn from the ballot. Muriel Newman said the intention of the Bill is to ensure openness and transparency.

The State Sector (Disclosure of Financial Settlements) Amendment Bill would amend the State Sector Act to end the secrecy surrounding the amount of settlements like the reported $100,000 paid to the WINZ manager after the charter flight debacle. “This has become a very worrying trend in the public sector. WINZ has entered into 11 other secret settlements at a total cost of $376,181. The Fire Service Commission is also refusing to detail the $337,000 it paid out to three former staff last year,” said Muriel Newman.

“This is taxpayer money. Transparency and openness is vital in the public interest. Parliament must address secret settlements and this Bill should go to a Select Committee to allow the debate to begin,” she said. ENDS

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