"The test", according to Prime Minister John Key, is whether
he "can rely on" the word of Act leader John Banks. Of
course, the test is also whether the country can - and should
- rely on Mr Key's reliance of Mr Banks' word. And the word
on that word, according to Labour Party deputy leader Grant
Robertson, NZ First leader Winston Peter, Green Party
co-leader Metiria Turia, Megaupload millionaire Kim Dotcom -
and many other New Zealanders - is a resounding "no".
Opposition parties have renewed their calls for Mr Key to
sack Mr Banks in light of police documents, revealed last
week, which show Mr Dotcom told police Mr Banks had asked him
to split into two his $50,000 donation for his (failed) 2010
Auckland mayoral campaign so he would not have to declare the
source. A $15,000 donation from SkyCity was also recorded as
anonymous. The police found Mr Banks had filed a false
election return but had not done so deliberately, because he
did not read it before signing it. As the time limit for
filing a false return had expired, no prosecution could be
Mr Robertson said the police finding was enough to raise
doubts about Mr Banks' assurances in the media and to Mr Key
that he had acted legally, and evidence from Mr Dotcom and
his lawyer indicated Mr Banks had misled the Prime Minister
in May when he said he had not known about the donation. Mr
Key is supporting Mr Banks, the MP for Epsom and Minister for
Small Business, saying he had "given me an assurance that he
met the law". Mr Banks said police had weighed up all the
evidence, not pressed charges and he was now "moving on".
But whether he, or the Prime Minister, will be allowed to
move on seems unlikely, particularly while Opposition parties
and much of the country continue to smell a rat, while the
truth and untruths of what has been said and done seem
increasingly murky - and while the Prime Minister continues
to refuse to read the police report.
Mr Banks' "word" has been questioned before. In January, he
told media he hardly knew Mr Dotcom, who faces possible
extradition to the US on charges of criminal copyright
violation, and could not recall certain meetings, which
included attending Mr Dotcom's birthday party and other
visits to his mansion and being flown in his helicopter. He
also enjoyed his hospitality on a Hong Kong holiday.
Mr Dotcom said, after attending Question Time in Parliament
this week, the denial of their relationship was "not what
But that is not the only "friendship" being tested. The Prime
Minister needs Mr Banks to help maintain National's fragile
majority in Government - a relationship cemented over that
now infamous cup of tea in a Newmarket cafe just before the
November 2011 general election. But Mr Dotcom doubtless
voiced the feelings of many New Zealanders when he said: "I
think the Prime Minister has had to make a choice: am I going
to uphold ethical standards, or do I want to remain in
Mr Key is not the first prime minister to be faced with that
choice. But he is so far sticking firmly to his guns on the
issue, accusing Labour of launching a "politically motivated"
attack on the Government. He said under the Local Electoral
Act it was legal to solicit donations and declare them
anonymous, and said many MPs would have done the same.
But the incident has prompted proposed changes to that Act,
which will cap anonymous donations to local election
candidates at $1500.
So it appears the public's concern about transparency and
accountability in donations has been heeded. But in terms of
Mr Banks, and the Prime Minister's support of him, it seems
the accusations, denials, ducking and diving and semantics
will continue until someone - all that remains to be seen is
who - gives in.
Mr Dotcom said Mr Banks had not been honest but the matter
should now be "left to rest". But he also said - quite
rightly - leadership that did not uphold high ethical
standards raised doubts: "I would worry what else is
lingering in the dark that I don't know about, and as a voter
I would certainly consider who to give my vote to next
election." To avoid such doubts and clear the air, the Prime
Minister should stop playing politics, and send Mr Banks to
the back benches.