In hindsight, it was not the smartest thing John Banks has
But he could not stop himself from taking a verbal swipe at
all and sundry as he pushed his way through the media throng
to reach the temporary sanctuary of Parliament's debating
chamber on Thursday afternoon.
There was just time for one reporter to sneak in a quick
question: Why had Mr Banks not shown up in the House the day
before when Kim Dotcom had staged his appearance in
Parliament's public galleries?
Mr Banks replied he had been elsewhere doing what he did best
- "raising funds". He quickly added that he was joking.
It is conceivable Mr Banks was making the joke at his own
But it did not sound like it. Rather, it was the sort of joke
making light of your troubles that you tell to a confidant
who can be trusted not to repeat it.
The remark was a telling indicator of Mr Banks' "me against
the world" state of mind after last week's release of the
file covering the police investigation into large, supposedly
anonymous donations to his campaign for the Auckland Super
City mayoralty in 2010.
Mr Banks maintained his Churchillian facade. There was no
sign of contrition or meaningful apology.
In that context, his joke about fundraising was a conscious
effort to retrieve a few crumbs of dignity in the face of
what amounts to a humiliating and very public dressing-down.
But it was also a two-fingered salute to those disturbed by
his seemingly cavalier regard for the laws on campaign
He continued to shelter behind his claim that top police
officers had essentially found nothing untoward in his
behaviour, despite the file's incriminating contents.
These included a series of witness statements - most notably
from managers and staff at SkyCity - which effectively make
nonsense of the legal charade that enabled Mr Banks to claim
he did not know the source of donations to his campaign.
Other statements, particularly by Mr Dotcom and his staff,
cast Mr Banks in a different, but just as awful, light.
His friendship with the internet tycoon is soap opera tinged
with Shakespeare. Pick up the documents and you will not put
them down until you have read every last one.
Things become truly tragic as Mr Dotcom languishes in agony
in a Mt Eden jail cell suffering convulsions and a bad back,
with prison staff seemingly indifferent to his plight.
Mr Dotcom's lawyer contacts Mr Banks for help.
But Mr Banks does not want to know. After his release, Mr
Dotcom rings Mr Banks, who says he is happy to see him. But
he is in a meeting and will call him back. That is the last
Mr Dotcom ever hears from Mr Banks.
At least it can be said that $50,000 bought Mr Dotcom
absolutely nothing by way of influence over Mr Banks.
But that is about as good as it gets for Act's sole MP - and
by implication for Act itself.
The latest revelations have made certain that his dream of
retaining "Fortress Epsom" and using it as a platform for
Act's regeneration is now pure fantasy.
Mr Banks now has not a snowball's chance in hell of holding
Although he insists otherwise, it consequently seems highly
unlikely he will stand again in 2014.
Such has been the drain on his credibility that National
voters in the seat are saying enough is enough.
They will no longer comply with any nod-wink arrangement that
requires they cast their electorate vote for the Act
candidate for National's greater good.
With that kind of writing firmly affixed to the wall, it is
not surprising there is speculation that some of Act's
remaining best and brightest are now planning to form a new
libertarian party of the right as a replacement.
John Key - conscious that another potential partner, Colin
Craig's Conservative Party, may well fail to meet the
threshold for winning seats - is meanwhile focusing ever more
on how he might do business after the next election with the
one politician and party with whom he has previously refused
to be a partner - Winston Peters and New Zealand First.
For now, Mr Key is lumbered with Mr Banks by virtue of
needing his vote to secure a majority on legislation where
National does not have the backing of the Maori Party.
But this is now a one-sided relationship. Mr Banks is now
permanently indebted to Mr Key for retaining him as a
minister when by any reasonable test he has failed to meet
the high ethical standards expected of someone in such a
Act's leverage - minute as it already was - has been heavily
Mr Banks is now essentially an irrelevance.
His only other options are to resign his ministerial warrant
and go to Parliament's backbenches, where he could choose to
vote against the Government on some measures - something
which would lead to even more scorn being heaped upon him.
Alternatively, he could resign from Parliament. No-one would
bet against that happening.
But the more immediate question is how much damage Mr Banks'
remaining a minister is doing to Mr Key's reputation.
Labour, for one, has quietly altered its tactics. It is
focusing less on trying to destroy Mr Banks - and with him Mr
Key's majority - and more on highlighting Mr Key as no
different from any other politician in terms of political
For himself, Mr Key is sticking to his line that he is taking
Mr Banks at his word that he complied with local body
electoral law until it is proven that he did not.
Reading the police file would give more than enough such
material for Mr Key to change his mind. So he has not read
It is all a bit too convenient. So Labour is seeking to
unpick Mr Key's argument by forcing him to answer questions
on the detail, such as what does he mean by the phrase
"complying with the law".
Mr Key has to be extremely careful with his answers as the
Opposition will search for contradictions and then demand he
Once on the back foot on such issues, it is hard to get a
quick turnaroundLabour knows from experience how distracting
and wearingly this line of attack can be for a government.
But it is just as difficult for Opposition parties to
maintain the momentum of such a line of attack.
When other opponents have been in trouble, Labour has
promised to keep slugging away - only to ease off.
This time, it says, will be different.
John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald