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Budget website: it's a feature not a hack

Paul Brislen, Editor. 02 March 2020, 7:06 am

The State Services Commission has released its report into last year's botched Budget website and concludes shoddy website design and poor oversight by Treasury officials was to blame for the early leak of information.

The report finds:

  • 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.

State Service Commissioner Peter 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."

In May last year, prior to the official release date for the Budget, National Party MPs revealed they were in possession of Budget figures without authorisation. While government ministers scrambled to understand whether the figures were accurate and how they were able to be accessed, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf put out a statement claiming Treasury systems had been "hacked" and he had contacted the police and the National Cyber Security Centre.

However, that story quickly unravelled when it became apparent that Treasury had inadvertently linked the full pre-launch site to the search engine of the clone site that was available to the public. Snippets of information could be found by searching the clone site and piecing together the information.

Secretary Makhlouf, who had already resigned prior to the Budget debacle, has since moved on to a new role with the Irish central bank. Incoming Secretary, Dr Caralee McLiesh, has implemented a number of changes at governance level to ensure this year's Budget reveal is more of a surprise than the last.


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