New Zealand Law Society - Treasury best not enough over Budget material access, says SSC

Treasury best not enough over Budget material access, says SSC

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The State Services Commission has released the findings of an inquiry into how Budget-sensitive material was accessed in 2019 at the Treasury.

The inquiry, led by Jenn Bestwick, was launched by the Commission at the request of the Treasury after sensitive Budget information was accessed on the Treasury website two days before the 2019 Budget was to be announced on 30 May. Budget-sensitive material was accessed via searches on the Treasury website.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes says the Treasury's failure to keep Budget sensitive informamtion secure was not acceptable.

“This should not have happened. Some things are so critical that they can never be allowed to fail. Security of the Budget is one of these," he says.

He says the Treasury has an excellent reputation as New Zealand's lead advisor to the Government on economic and fiscal policy, with very good people doing their best.

“But sometimes doing your best is not enough,” Mr Hughes says. “Some things you just need to get right. Each and every time. For these you need to check, check and check again and that didn’t happen with security around Budget 2019.

The inquiry found:

  • A series of technical decisions led to a design in the Treasury website search function, which allowed access to Budget 2019 information. The design also existed in the 2018 Budget, though there were no security breaches.
  • Governance and oversight at the Treasury’s executive level fell short.
  • Risk management processes around Budget 2019 were not good enough.
  • Concerns about security risks existed but were not escalated.

Mr Hughes says senior leadership at the Treasury were rightly focused on the big economic and fiscal issues which are important to New Zealanders and the Government.

"That is what I expect. But they got the balance wrong. The Treasury’s core business is also delivering the Budget and I’m disappointed the senior leadership were not hands-on enough in that task.

“I am confident the new Secretary of the Treasury will provide the leadership to deliver the necessary changes to ensure this doesn't happen again.”

Mr Hughes says the Treasury, under new Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh, has already implemented a number of changes that address many of the issues raised or findings from the inquiry.