New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern smiles as she attends the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2019.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern smiles as she attends the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2019.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - New Zealand police believe early accessing of sensitive budget information from the Treasury's website were not illegal, the department said on Thursday, in the midst of a national furor over hacking accusations in which the opposition National Party confirmed it was responsible for the access.

The Treasury said on Wednesday that it was attacked 2,000 times in two days by hackers after the opposition National Party published some details of the much-anticipated economic plan before its full release due later on Thursday.

The saga has dominated headlines, sparked jabs between political parties, and threatened to overshadow the much-vaunted "Wellbeing" budget promised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government. It aims to move away from traditional economic indicators to use other measures of living standards from loneliness to water quality.

Leader of the center-right National Party Simon Bridges told reporters on Thursday that party officials researching the budget had stumbled upon the access to the information, which he said showed the "incompetence" of the government.

"It was in relation to a lack of confidence in this government which we absolutely have a duty to disclose to New Zealanders," he said.

New Zealand's Finance Minister Grant Robertson spe
New Zealand's Finance Minister Grant Robertson speaks during a media conference in Wellington, May 17, 2018.

He called on the head of Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf and Finance Minister Grant Robertson to resign over their handling of the matter.

Makhlouf and Robertson did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Treasury statement on Thursday said that police were dropping the investigation into what happened to the website.

"Police have advised the Treasury that, on the available information, an unknown person or persons appear to have exploited a feature in the website search tool but that this does not appear to be unlawful," it said.

Police confirmed in an email that they had advised Treasury the incident did not appear to be unlawful and they would not be taking further action.

Political analysts said that the way the government had handled the issue could dent public confidence in the government and public service.

"It's unprecedented what has happened in terms of a government department calling the police, misinterpreting what has happened to the public about their own apparent incompetence," said Bryce Edwards, Wellington-based political analyst at Critical Politics.

In the statement, Treasury head Gabriel Makhlouf said the agency had created a "clone" website with budget information not publicly accessible, though a special word search could access some content.

He said several internet IP addresses, including one parliamentary one, were involved, but did not give names of those responsible.

The Treasury said it was reviewing its systems and would increase the security of budget information, while a government supervisory body would carry out an inquiry into what happened.