The latest revelations about John Banks' political finances will further erode New Zealand's reputation as one of the least corrupt nations in the world. In recent years there's been a massive increase in allegations about the fundraising and expenditure of political parties and politicians in this country - with the usual outcome of politicians being able to thumb their noses at the court of public opinion. It seems our politicians are remarkably adept at finding ways to get around electoral law to fund their campaigns. The John Banks saga will merely reinforce this notion to the public, and in general it will reduce confidence in parliamentary politics.
The latest saga - brought about by the release of the Police files of their investigation into John Banks' 2010 mayoral campaign finances - has provided even further ammunition for those who claim that Banks lied about receiving donations from Kim Dotcom and SkyCity. The material in the police report is incredibly damning - and David Fisher provides the must-read coverage of it in Police file: How Banks' team targeted rich-list. You can also read the actual police report. David Fisher reveals more in his story, Banks camp's stories differ, in which the politician's press secretary is said to have stated at one point that Banks had indeed read his official donation disclosure form. It was this form that the police found to be in breach of the law, but did not prosecute, partly because Banks claimed to have only signed it and not known what was in, as a staffer had filled it out.
Banks' version of events is now deeply discredited by much of the coverage, which is providing opposition parties with another chance to attack the National Government. The problem for John Key is that he promised to fire Banks if it turned out that he had lied, and now the Labour Party is clearly alleging that Banks 'lied' - see Andrea Vance's Pressure goes on Key to jettison Banks. John Key is of course playing down the issue, and saying that he doesn't plan to read the police file. Ethics and standards can become very flexible when a whole government's fate is on the line. National needs Act's one vote to survive and so Key has little choice, but that 2011 cup of tea is looking very expensive and the ongoing cost will be to John Key's credibility.
Not surprisingly, John Banks still refuses to elaborate on the issue. Furthermore, Banks has not allowed his statement to police on the issue to be released publicly. At the moment it seems that the only one willing to give some sort of defence of John Banks - and a critique of Kim Dotcom - is blogger Cathy Odgers - see: Once Upon A Mattress - The Dot Con Fairytale.
The Government's main response has been to announce that the donations rules for local body elections are to be tightened - see Andrea Vance's Local body campaign donation rules tightened. Interestingly, Banks has been willing to comment on this issue, welcoming the changes and expressing unhappiness about being the victim of the current law: 'As Charles Dickens said in 1838 the law is an ass - and it's important that the Government cleans it up. No candidate for public office should go through what I had to go through' - see RNZ's Banks welcomes changes to 'unfair' donations law.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also entered into the debate over the spending rules - see Claire Trevett's Trim cap for contenders, says Brown. Brown's plea could be seen as the classic 'incumbency protection' argument in which you limit the ability of challenger candidates to campaign.
Coming on top of numerous other apparent breaches of the law by politicians of virtually every political hue, it's worth noting that having strict political finance laws that are not very vigorously policed - or that contain many loopholes - is hardly international best practice. Instead, the lesson from overseas is that it's best to have as few regulations around political finance as possible, keep them simple, but police them rigorously. New Zealand doesn't seem to have learnt that lesson yet.
Yesterday's hui on Maori water claims - the other big political story of the moment - could turn out to be just as monumental as the Tuhoe settlement forged earlier in the week. It might end up being seen as a turning point for Maoridom - with some significant decisions made, an appearance of unity achieved, and some bold statements issued. The hui was most remarkable for its apparent decision that no iwi or hapu would negotiate with the Government separately - see Tracy Watkins' Maori speak as one on water rights. As Watkins says, this new united front amounts to 'the biggest threat to the Government's asset sales programme so far'. Whether this agreement can be kept is a good question - there's good reason to think that the unity on display yesterday could easily fall apart. But nonetheless, the establishment of a new Maori negotiating group could be vital in the forging of longer-term unity in Maori politics.
Tracy Watkins also has an excellent summary of the 'who's who' within Maoridom as well as the shifting powers at play - see: Maori deliver crystal clear message on water. She says that the hui 'was inspired genius by the Maori King, Tuheitia, or more likely, his close lieutenant Tukoroirangi Morgan'. For Morgan Godfery's analysis, see: The Kingitanga hui and what it means for NZ. Godfrey says the show of unity has put Maori in a very strong negotiating position but they will have to be careful not to overplay their hand.
The hui and its outcomes show growing confidence within Maoridom - as indicated by Audrey Young's report, We own the water - Maori King. But such bold claims could create a 'huge backlash' says David Farrar in his response: A view that I will never accept. In terms of Maori claims of water ownership, he says, 'Sorry, no you do not. You get certain rights from having moved here 600 years or so before the rest of us, but you do not get to claim ownership of all the water in New Zealand. We do not live in a country where the first wave of immigrants get all the rights, and the second wave get no rights over essential resources such as water'.
For an even more developed version of this line of thinking, see Karl du Fresne's Intoxicated by a cocktail of power and entitlement. He says that a 'massive challenge' is looming that 'relates to fundamental questions about who governs New Zealand, and for whose benefit. The Maori Council's challenge over water rights is symptomatic of a much wider grab-a-thon in which "Maori" interests are aggressively asserting rights to assets and resources with little regard for the common good'. du Fresne says this is all 'based on the false premise that New Zealand consists of two races, "Maori" and the rest'. This is also a point taken up by Winston Peters - see TVNZ's Maori need to meet a 'benchmark' - Peters.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Gordon Campbell has a must-read opinion piece, On Paula Bennett's latest welfare plans and Labour's exchange rate cynicism. The first part takes National to task for its welfare reforms, the second part is an incredibly stinging critique of Labour and the Greens' advocacy of bringing the exchange rate down.
* Is the welfare reform debate simply empty posturing by both sides? That's essentially the analysis of Mark Blackham's Why politicians like the beneficiary debate. He says that for both National and Labour the debate is just symbolic electoral positioning - a cynical way of advertising themselves to 'cement their identities' and win votes.
* Chris Trotter warns today about constitutional reform, suggesting the powers that be - or at least the Government's Constitutional Advisory Panel - wish to 'incorporate the Treaty of Waitangi in a new, bicultural, binding (and inevitably judicially defined) New Zealand constitution' - see: Uni students' constitution disappointing.
* ACC has been paying some medical specialists up to $500,000 a year, and some suspect that they're being paid to get long-term clients off the books - see APNZ's ACC specialist stats revealed by Greens.
* Brian Easton is busy writing a history of New Zealand from an economic perspective - entitled 'Not in Narrow Seas'. He's uploaded 'Chapter 34' to his blog - a particularly interesting account of Maori urban migration.