Rodney Hide: What $50k offshore account?

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National has David Shearer right where it wants him. Photo / Getty Images
National has David Shearer right where it wants him. Photo / Getty Images

The frightening part for Labour leader David Shearer forgetting to declare his $50,000-plus offshore bank account is National's response: next to nothing. The Prime Minister said simply that Shearer's memory lapse was "unfortunate".

Unfortunate? That's scary.

The usual political playbook is straightforward: 1. Make the account suspicious; 2. Keep the story alive; 3. Ensure a public inquiry; 4. Bust Shearer.

The political play is best run by an up-and-coming backbencher. Ministers must be seen as too busy running the country to be bothered.

The backbencher doesn't allege any wrongdoing. That requires evidence. The only concern is perception.

The backbencher kicks off by asking why an MP and party leader would ever need an offshore bank account. "The political leaders who have secret offshore accounts aren't the sort we usually have in New Zealand."

The story is kept alive by pressing hard through the media with new questions every day. Day Two: "Mr Shearer must come clean with just how much he has in his secret account." Of course, Shearer will refuse. Good.

Day Three: Allege it's over a million dollars.

Journalists do the rest. They put the million-dollar figure to Shearer. If he doesn't deny it, then a million dollars it is. If he denies it's a million, the journalists won't let go until he declares how much it's below a million. The account's dollar value is secured easily enough.

A new day, a new question. When did he last use the account? Who put the money in? When and why? Why hasn't he closed the account? On and on it goes.

The public inquiry is achieved by making a Breach of Privilege complaint. It's impossible for Parliament's Speaker to refuse. If failing to declare $50,000-plus in a foreign bank account is not a breach then MPs are free to declare Mickey Mouse or whatever on their register of interests.

The resulting Privileges Committee is media gold. Shearer must front to a committee of senior MPs, most of whom are on the Government's side. The questioning is in public, on camera. Week after week he must explain to incredulous MPs how he forgot about having tens of thousands of dollars in an offshore bank account but somehow remembered every year when he completed his tax return.

The whys and wherefores of his overseas banking would be dragged out of him. The committee would want his banking records. He would have little choice but to supply them.

The leader of the Labour Party would be a busted fish. The Labour Party would be in disarray.

But National has done none of this. That means only one thing. National want Shearer right where he is: leading the Labour Party into the next election.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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