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Paula Bennett grilled in parliament

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 14/06/2016 By Peter Wilson, Political Writer

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has told parliament she didn't know her press secretary had told a reporter about a police inquiry involving the chairman of an Auckland marae.

She said the first time she heard about it was when reporters questioned her on her way into parliament just before 2pm on Tuesday.

"At 3.20pm one of my staff confirmed they had spoken to the journalist about it the day before," she said.

Ms Bennett was being questioned by Labour's Phil Twyford, who has previously claimed the staffer leaked the information to discredit Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis.

The marea has opened its doors to the homeless, and Ms Bennett met him on Friday.

At that meeting, Mr Dennis told her he was under investigation by the police.

Ms Bennett confirmed in parliament that after the meeting she had told three or four of her staff members what Mr Dennis had said.

The staff member who talked to the reporter had assured her there was no intention to smear Mr Dennis or the marae.

Opposition MPs says it was a deliberate leak to distract attention from the fact that the marae was housing homeless people.

Before Ms Bennett was questioned in parliament, Labour leader Andrew Little said he didn't believe the minister didn't know about her press secretary's conversation.

"I don't think she's fit to be a minister," he said.

"I don't accept that she didn't know ... I don't see how a minister who has allowed this to happen can continue."

Prime Minister John Key says he has full confidence in Ms Bennett, and accepts her word that she didn't know about the conversation her press secretary had with a reporter.

Police have confirmed to NZ Newswire that Mr Dennis was stood down from his duties as a police iwi liaison officer in September last year, pending an inquiry.

The inquiry is reported to involve the way Mr Dennis intervened, on a personal basis and outside working hours, on behalf of a teenage boy who was in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

Mr Dennis is reported to have helped arrange for the teenage boy to move to Australia.

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