Editorial: Honourable way to avoid voters' wrath

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John Banks will not live down the stain on his reputation left by 'anonymous' donations to his last Auckland mayoral campaign. Photo / Natalie Slade
John Banks will not live down the stain on his reputation left by 'anonymous' donations to his last Auckland mayoral campaign. Photo / Natalie Slade

John Banks will not live down the stain on his reputation left by "anonymous" donations to his last Auckland mayoral campaign. That stain was bad enough when he claimed he could not remember a discussion with the internet magnate Kim Dotcom. It became worse last week when the findings of a police investigation were released.

The police found Mr Banks did personally solicit the two $25,000 donations from Mr Dotcom, subsequently recorded as anonymous in his election return. They also found he had personally received an "anonymous" donation from SkyCity's chief executive that was handed to him in a sealed envelope.

The police are taking no action on these findings because the election return was filed by a campaign volunteer and Mr Banks had sought and received confirmation that it was accurate before signing it. That was all he need do, in the police view, to satisfy the Local Electoral Act.

That was good enough for the Prime Minister, who relies on Mr Banks' vote as the solitary member of the Act Party in Parliament.

The former mayor, now MP for Epsom, owes his survival in the Government entirely to MMP. Were he a National MP he would surely have gone the way of ministers who have been suspended for less.

This case demonstrates yet again that the enforcement of electoral law is not a task for the police. It is not fair to draw them into highly charged political events, especially if their decision might force a byelection that would have implications for a government's stability. That consequence is unlikely in this case. National, or a new potential coalition partner, could count on winning Epsom.

Mr Banks ought to have resigned as soon as his dealings with Mr Dotcom were exposed. He was unable to deny suggesting how the $50,000 donation might be made anonymously, so he pleaded no memory of the subject. The best that can be said for him - which is all John Key can say - is that the law was not broken.

The letter of the law might not have been broken, its spirit certainly was. Mr Banks was a Cabinet minister long before he was Auckland's mayor. Like all ministers he was called honourable. They carry that title to tell the public, and remind themselves, that a high degree of honesty is expected of them. Mr Banks has often given the impression he values that esteem and considers he deserves it.

Were he to resign now, Act would lose its sole remaining toe-hold in Parliament but that seems inevitable anyway. Whether they get the chance soon, or at the next general election, Epsom voters will make their own assessment of his character in the light of his last mayoral electoral declaration.

It has been nearly a week since the police issued their findings. Mr Banks seems to have decided he can brazen it out. Perhaps he thinks it will be forgotten in the two years and three months remaining of this parliamentary term. If so, he underestimates the harm he has done to himself.

Labour leader David Shearer put it succinctly: "This is a guy that has gone to a donor, asked for money and in one case received a cheque in his hand, then turned around and said he cannot remember receiving it. Police can't prove it, but everyone in New Zealand knows what is going on here."

This Government is not the first under MMP to rely on discredited company but the country deserves better. Mr Banks should weigh up his position in light of the police findings and consider what a standard he could set with a resignation now.

- NZ Herald

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