John Armstrong: Peters should go, but he won't

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Winston Peters' letter of resignation as a minister ought to be on the Prime Minister's desk this morning.

It won't be. However, the damning report of Parliament's privileges committee demands nothing less, even though its finding that Peters is in contempt was not unanimous.

Things don't come much worse for an MP than such a finding of contempt and accompanying recommendation of parliamentary censure.

Peters will try to hide behind the Labour-NZ First minority view that the evidence before the committee was insufficient to prove that he had knowledge of the $100,000 donation from business tycoon Owen Glenn long before he says he did.

He will allege the National and Act MPs on the committee had ulterior motives in finding against him.

But he cannot get such accusations to stick when it comes to the Greens, United Future and Maori Party representatives who made up the remainder of the majority view. Those parties had no axe to grind with Peters. They simply reached the only conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence - that Peters had "some knowledge" of Glenn's intention to make a donation.

The Prime Minister repeatedly took Peters at his word when she questioned him on whether Glenn had made such a donation. Peters has embarrassed her. She has been made to look foolish for trusting him for so long. Were it anyone but Peters, they would have been removed long ago.

Helen Clark might argue Peters' portfolios have been stripped from him already, but he remains a minister without portfolio and thus entitled to a minister's salary and the perks. This is no longer tenable.

If he does not volunteer his resignation then the Prime Minister should sack him. But she won't.

The big question is whether she can ever trust him again. With National not wanting a bar of him, it would now seem inconceivable that Peters could again become a minister even if Labour wins the election.

But Labour keeps defending him. Before the report's release last night, Clark had suddenly started talking about the committee's proceedings becoming so politicised that some MPs had gone into the hearings having made up their mind before they had heard a single piece of evidence.

That was an admission of defeat; that she was already aware NZ First and Labour were going to be in an uncomfortable minority.

The real test of Labour's loyalty to Peters will come in Parliament today when the report is debated.

In the interim, Clark is right about the committee being politicised, but Labour is as guilty of that as anyone.

Labour's reluctance to upset Peters with rigorous questioning during his appearances in front of the committee was understandable given Labour's dependence on him for the past three years and conceivably for the next three as well. But it is to Labour's eternal shame that it behaved thus.

In the end, the majority verdict is a victory for principle over expediency and for the integrity of the privileges committee.

If it was someone else, Peters would be calling for his or her resignation from Parliament. If he followed the founding principles of his party, he would be considering resigning from Parliament. Don't hold your breath.

- NZ Herald

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