In politics it's rarely a good idea to ask questions you don't want to hear the answer to, which may explain John Key's reluctance to personally grill John Banks about anonymous donations. Instead the Prime Minister has asked his Chief of Staff to have that conversation. Tracy Watkins has, helpfully, provided a list of Five questions that the public - and presumably the Prime Minister - should really get answers to:
1. Have you actually read the Local Electoral Act?
2. Did you tell Kim Dotcom to split a $50,000 donation into two cheques?
3. What did Kim Dotcom want in return for his donation?
4. You admit advocating for him - when, to who, and on what subjects?
5. Did you give the prime minister the same untrue explanations you've given the media?
While John Banks has admitted that it was a mistake not to be initially more forthcoming about his relationship with Kim Dotcom (see: Andrea Vance's Banks admits 'obfuscating'), blaming legal advice, in reality he still hasn't come out with crucial information.
So electoral Law expert Andrew Geddis looks at why Banks' lawyer may have told him to clam up. He notes that this type of advice is usually given to prevent potentially guilty clients incriminating themselves or, at the very least, exposing their legal - but dodgy - behaviour to the public - see: Did John Banks travel by cabbage boat after all?.
A crucial distinction both Banks and Key are making is that the Act leader was not an MP or Minister at the time the donations were sought. However, Maurice Williamson was indeed an MP and minister, and Banks has admitted that he updated Kim Dotcom on the progress of his Overseas Investment Office application to buy his mansion. This has been confirmed by Dotcom's bodyguard Wayne Tempero. Yet in apparent contradiction of this, a spokesperson for Williamson has said that proper procedure was followed and that no updates were given about the application to anyone outside of the Minister's office - see: David Fisher and Adam Bennett's John Banks: I briefed Dotcom.
Key, using his recently-lowered standards of Ministerial ethics, may be looking to ride out Banks' difficulties, but if Williamson is found to have behaved improperly then Key will be forced to act. Today on iPredict Williamson is at almost even odds to be stood down in the next week, while there's a 61% chance of John Banks being stood down during the next fortnight.
No one appears to be impressed by Banks' behaviour or Key's reaction and the consensus seems to be that the Act leader was either deliberately hiding information or that his memory is so bad that he is mentally unfit to be a Minister - see: today's Dominion Post editorial Bad memory or poor judgment?, the Herald's Banks: I didn't lie, I simply forgot, Warwick Rasmussen's An extraordinary lapse of memory, Simon Cunliffe's Splitting hairs over ethics and legality not a good look for PM and Jane Clifton's A handy display of ignorance.
Tim Watkin argues that the Prime Minister has taken the only realistic option available to him, but that it still may not end well for the Govenrment - see: Why John Key's doing the right thing, but is still in trouble. Watkin is particularly critical of the Key's use of an intermediary to seek his assurances from Banks, and over his Key's changing ethical standards.
Brian Rudman makes a good case for an urgent rewriting of the local body electoral laws in Politicians need to rewrite the rules pointing out that the Auckland supercity has created the need for huge campaign budgets and that while spending limits were increased, donation rules were left unchanged. He makes the point that Len Brown received almost half a million dollars in donations through a trust which effectively - and legally - hid their real source from the public eye. Rudman says he has no more trust that Len Brown doesn't know who his anonymous benefactors is than he does for John Banks.
While comparisons are being made between Kim Dotcom and Owen Glenn, Fran O'Sullivan points out the similarities with the 'Bill Liu' case which involved donations to both National and Labour and accusations of improper influencing of immigration decisions. The case goes to the Auckland High Court next week. O'Sullivan argues that urgent reform is needed to remove a 'dreadful taint' on our political system - see: Donations rules must be tightened.
John Banks reinvention as the silent type would have come in very handy on a recent Air New Zealand flight where he found himself seated between Winston Peters and Green MP Denise Roche. The moment was captured in all its awkward glory by Listener photographer David White - see: Toby Manhire's Banksie in the middle, Winston on the aisle. There are numerous other interesting satirical images floating around the internet about the banks.com scandal, including this one of 'Banksy'.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The Greens are accusing the Government of fast tracking alcohol reforms to divert attention away from other controversies - see: Danya Levy's Liquor bill a 'diversion'. For a summary of the proposals see John Hartevelt's Second hurdle for alcohol law reform bill.
* In the tradition of avoiding nasty surprises on Budget Day, the Government has signaled cuts to Student Allowances and tougher repayment requirements for student loans. New Zealand Students Association President Pete Hodkinson is calling it a tax increase: 'It's outrageous that graduates should have to pay higher taxes to pay for a budget shortfall that has been caused by the tax cuts that the National Government gave to high-income earners' - see: Vernon Small's Student-loan borrowers face Budget pay-cut.
* Stephen Franks thinks Trevor Mallard will be considering a full apology and retraction after recent revelations about ACC's behaviour in the Bronwyn Pullar matter - see: Crusher's defamation action.
* Gareth Morgan is dismayed at the apparent rebounding of property values, saying that House prices are a cancer for the economy.
* The Herald rates the Auckland City councilors. Cameron Brewer, Mike Lee and Cathy Casey top the class, while Len Brown gets a C; 'must try harder' - see: Auckland Super City report card: How they rate.
* Finally, many have speculated that the Labour Party is obsessed with David Farrar and yesterday that obsession may have reached it's inevitable conclusion when David Shearer attacked the Prime Minister over something David Farrar had said years ago - see John Armstrong's Shearer left stumbling over PM 'quote'.