John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Toothless law Act leader's saviour

MP John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell
MP John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In the matter of John Archibald Banks and the declaration of anonymous donations to his 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign, the obscure and now patently obsolete Local Electoral Act should be in the dock.

The inadequacies of the act meant the chances of Act's leader and sole MP being charged over the filing of his expenses return were always remote.

That reality is echoed in yesterday's police report on the complaint made by Labour's Trevor Mallard and others over the declaration of donations to Banks' campaign.

It is crystal clear from the report that - as Labour's David Shearer put it - Banks sought the money. Banks received the money. Banks then forgot he received the money. But from that point the police could not find sufficient evidence that Banks knowingly filed a false return. The law is the law. The police were stymied.

It is worth stressing that Banks has not been vindicated, however.

National should do the right thing and promise to rewrite the legislation in time for next year's local body elections. But don't hold you breath.

To announce the act was being rewritten would be a tacit admission that Banks was in the wrong. And that would have seriously undermined the Prime Minister's defence that he was not standing Banks down as a minister pending the police investigation because Banks had not broken any law.

Labour says that as a result of the police findings, John Key's ethical standards are in tatters. This is an overstatement. Banks' reputation is certainly in tatters. And, by association, Act's too. But that has been the case for several years now.

In Key's case, he is several steps removed from what happened during the last Auckland mayoralty campaign - and can thus at least try to distance himself to a degree from Banks.

As Helen Clark did with Winston Peters, Key needs Banks' parliamentary vote.

The public have become hardened to such realities and how major party leaders have to turn a blind eye to indiscretions by their minor party support partners. If they did not, Governments would topple at regular intervals.

Opposition parties might demand that Banks be relieved of his portfolio responsibilities, but their motivation in calling for him to go is as self-interested as National's is in keeping him.

Voters can see that - which is one reason why there has been comparatively little public agitation for Banks' head to roll.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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