John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Forced exit adds a scar but it won't destabilise Govt

Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The forced exit of Peter Dunne from John Key's ministry may have added another abrasion to the increasingly pock-marked fabric of the National-led minority Government. But the United Future MP's resignation has not destabilised it.

Talk of any byelection in Dunne's Ohariu seat is premature. An early election is in the realm of the fanciful.

In his resignation statement last Friday, Dunne stressed his party's confidence and supply agreement with National was not affected by his losing his ministerial role. He and his party would continue to honour that deal "in letter and in spirit". You can't get a stronger assurance than that.

If Dunne were to break his word, he would incur considerable odium. His political career may be in tatters, but he would not wish to leave Parliament with pariah status.

Much hinges on the level of pressure Winston Peters and Labour are able to place on Dunne to get him to quit as an MP altogether.

Dunne faces a potential hearing in front of Parliament's privileges committee. That is never pleasant. But the committee would be most unlikely to inflict any punishment beyond censure - the fate of Peters when he appeared in front of that committee over the Owen Glenn-NZ First funding affair in 2008.

Peters has referred the latest matter to the police, but that is not expected to result in any moves to prosecute Dunne.

Lastly, there is the no small question of whether Peters is holding back any further damaging material to embarrass Dunne.

If Peters' blowtorch did burn Dunne to the point of his leaving the House, National would more than likely win the subsequent byelection.

Although Dunne won nearly 39 per cent of the electorate vote in Ohariu in 2011, National won close to 50 per cent of the party vote in the seat against Labour's 26 per cent.

It would be a different sort of byelection - one in which voters would be unable to register a protest vote just for the sake of it because a Labour win would be seen as leaving the Government less stable.

But even then Key could still govern within the terms of his party's confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party.

Only if that support were pulled would Key have to ask the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and call an early election.

Arguably, the polls suggest National might not be better positioned to go to the country than it is now. But politicians are highly resistant to taking any risks which could see them losing power - even more so when they have nearly half a parliamentary term still to run.

- 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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