Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Guilty verdict blights John Banks' 34-year career

John Banks found guilty. Photo / Brett Phibbs
John Banks found guilty. Photo / Brett Phibbs

John Banks' cabbage boat has set sail into the sunset with today's guilty verdict likely blighting his thirty four year career in national politics which could end on August 1.

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Mr Banks announced he would leave Parliament at the next election after it was confirmed last year he would face electoral finance court charges. Given the offence carries a maximum sentence of two years or more imprisonment, if he is convicted, legislation means he can no longer remain an MP until then.

While he didn't have a conviction entered against his name yesterday which would have triggered his ejection, that appears likely to happen when he is sentenced on August 1, the day after Parliament rises for the September election. That would still cut his term as an MP short.

It would be an ignominious end to a Parliamentary career that began in 1980 as the National MP for Whangarei.

He played hardball right from the start - attacking welfare beneficiaries, soft sentencings for violent crime and funding for "disabled lesbians and other minority groups''. He also berated "troublemakers'' and "communists'' in the trade union movement over disputes at Marsden Pt refinery.

In Opposition in 1986, Banks called for an immediate election over Labour's anti-nuclear policy.

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He called Labour Government minister Ann Hercus "Barbie doll'' or "Vinegar Lil'' and her colleague Russell Marshall the "Red Reverend''. He described Mike Moore as a "brothel-keeper from Papanui'' after a rental property of Mr Moore's was used as an illegal brothel.

Banks alleged communists were making policy for the Labour Party.

He clashed with Prime Minister David Lange after alluding to Agriculture Minister Colin Moyle "hanging around public toilets'' and called Michael Cullen a "poofter''.

In late 1986, amid public outcry over violent crimes, Banks released details of previous convictions of two accused but survived contempt of court charges.

In April 1987 he was suspended from Parliament for seven days over allegations that Cabinet Minister Richard Prebble benefited from the votes of Pacific Island overstayers in Auckland Central.

A year later he slammed the Royal Commission on Social Policy as "a sickening response to a sick society. It is advocating the worst kind of wall-to-wall socialism ... when what the country needs is a massive dose of individual responsibility.''

As National's employment spokesman, he proposed work schemes for the unemployed. As law and order spokesman, he promised 900 new police, longer sentences and tougher parole conditions.

After the 1990 election, Mr Banks got the Police, Tourism and Sport portfolios in Jim Bolger's administration. He proved to be a hands-on' Police Minister, visiting crime scenes including Aramoana. But the promised 900 extra police proved difficult to deliver and crime statistics worsened. Relations with Justice Minister Doug Graham, with lawyers and the judiciary deteriorated.

In August 1992 Banks started the Talkback with Banks series on Radio Pacific in which he attacked the Race Relations Office and conciliator Chris Laidlaw.

In 1993, Mr Prebble accused him of interfering in a police tender (for flak jackets) after the deadline was extended to allow a company owned by a Whangarei friend to make a late bid. Banks was subsequently cleared.

He was returned to Parliament with a reduced majority and lost the Police portfolio. He kept Tourism and picked up Local Government, but his fledgling talkback radio career overtook his waning parliamentary star in the 1993-96 term.

Conflict of interest allegations were raised when, as Tourism Minister, he submitted a bid for the Waitangi Resort Hotel.

Relations with Cabinet ministers further deteriorated over Radio Pacific's bid for Radio New Zealand commercial stations. The "Hone" incident on Mr Banks' radio show, when Cabinet colleague John Carter phoned in pretending to be an unemployed Maori opposed to the Government's fiscal envelope for Treaty of Waitangi claims, proved another embarrassment for Prime Minister Bolger.

Banks went on to attack District Court judges and gained further notoriety in 1996 by threatening to release the names of abortion doctors. In 1996, the first MMP election, Banks' majority in Whangarei slumped to just 303 votes.

He announced he would not work with NZ First leader and former National colleague Winston Peters (with whom he had clashed, physically) and on November 1 he resigned from Cabinet. Three days later he took up a breakfast slot on Radio Pacific. He left Parliament at the 1999 elections.

In 2001 Mr Banks began the first of his two terms as Mayor of Auckland City. Losing out to Dick Hubbard in a campaign marred by dirty tricks tactics by his campaign manager which were not authorised by Mr Banks.

He regained the office in 2007 but lost out to Len Brown in his 2010 bid to become the first mayor of the newly amalgamated Auckland "Supercity''. It was during this campaign that Banks received the donations from Kim Dotcom and SkyCity which were at the centre of the court case against him.

In May 2011, he re-entered Parliament as Act's MP for Epsom and sole representative in Parliament. His election followed a campaign that saw his conversation with Prime Minister John Key about an electoral accommodation with National over a cup of tea at an Auckland cafe surreptitiously recorded by a freelance cameraman.

He later refused to be drawn on the matter when it was being investigated by police saying: "I think you think I came up the river on a cabbage boat''.

His single vote was crucial for the National Government in passing legislation, as its other support partners balked at the bill enabling the SkyCity pokies for convention centre deal.

Mr Key famously refused to read a police report about Banks' mayoral campaign donations which found a possible breach of the law that police could not pursue for technical reasons.

However when serial litigant Graham McCready successfully argued that Banks should go to trial to face charges over the matter, he resigned as a Minister but remained in Parliament.

Edited: 06/06/2014

- NZ Herald

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