The doors open and close...

As one parliamentary career door creaks slightly back open, another is surely closing. 

Act party leader John Banks signalled the end of his 36-year political career last Wednesday, announcing he will not seek re-election in the 2014 general election but will remain Act leader and MP for Epsom until that time.

His decision was ostensibly ''that it is time for him to spend more time on his family and his private business interests'' but came only a day after the High Court ruled he must stand trial in the High Court on allegations of filing a false electoral return.

The ruling was in response to Mr Banks' appeal, hoping to overturn an Auckland District Court decision there was sufficient evidence to commit him to trial on a charge under the Local Electoral Act over donations from internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and casino operator SkyCity to Mr Banks' 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign, which were labelled anonymous.

Mr Banks has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He resigned from his ministerial portfolios after the district court ruling, but had faced huge pressure from Opposition parties to do so much earlier.

Prime Minister John Key has also been criticised for failing to take a tough line until the issue was resolved, but of course Mr Banks' vote has been vital as a support partner in passing such controversial legislation as the SkyCity convention-centre-for-pokies deal.

But the scandal around the donations, the looming prospect of a trial, the possibility of a prison sentence if there is a conviction, a then vacant Epsom electoral seat, the jeopardising of the Government through the confidence and supply agreement and a possible impact on the outcome of next year's general election must all have been factors in Mr Banks' decision.

Of course, Mr Banks must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise at trial. But there will still be those who believe he should resign his positions as Act leader and Epsom MP immediately. However, such a longstanding and controversial political character was never going to let others fully call the shots.

Just to confirm how different a week in politics can be, only a day before Mr Banks' announcement, another Government support partner, United Future leader Peter Dunne, was seeking to re-establish his political standing in the light of a new report by Parliament's privileges committee into the Henry Inquiry released last week.

The Henry Inquiry was set up to investigate the leak of a report by Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge from her review of the Government Communications Security Bureau in the wake of the unlawful monitoring of and raid on Kim Dotcom's mansion. The Kitteridge report had found another 88 cases of illegal spying by the GCSB and was due to be released just days after it was leaked.

The privileges committee report was one the events that led to records of emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and ministers including Mr Dunne, along with phone logs and swipe card records, being released to the Henry Inquiry, which had no formal powers to demand it.

The committee found worrying ''failures on many levels'' in the way information was handled and failures to consider the role of MPs, the free press, or consider the Official Information Act, Privacy Act and Evidence Act. The furore claimed the scalp of Parliamentary Service general manager Geoff Thorn, and Mr Dunne resigned as a minister after refusing to release some of the emails.

Mr Dunne believes the report vindicates the position he took and also clears the way for Mr Key to reinstate him as a minister. But, of course, neither saga is over.

The privileges committee is undertaking the next stage of its inquiry, addressing the ''fundamental flaws'' in the existing arrangements and establishing ''proper systems and processes'' around the release of parliamentary information, and Mr Dunne's fate as a minister remains uncertain.

Mr Banks' case will still have to play out in court and nominations will soon be sought by the Act party for a new candidate for Epsom to stand at the election (what price a Rodney Hide comeback?) And while the doors swing open and shut, perception is still everything - and it is the Government which is not emerging well from the continued fallout from its support partners.

 

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