Oops. David Shearer appeared to have found the killer quote from John Key's past to bury the PM in his own hypocrisy yesterday.

Unfortunately Mr Key never said what the Labour leader quoted him as saying.

The blunder - made in Parliament and repeated in a subsequent press statement later on - was acknowledged by his parliamentary office after the Herald could find nothing that verified that Mr Key had ever uttered the words.

The quote was actually the work of National-leaning blogger David Farrar, who used it on his Kiwiblog site in 2006 in reference to disgraced former Labour minister Phillip Field.


Mr Shearer was obliged to return to the House last night to apologise and correct the mistake.

Along with the Greens and NZ First, Mr Shearer had been trying to embarrass Mr Key for not sacking John Banks over the Dotcom donation saga given Mr Key had demanded as much of Helen Clark after Winston Peters became embroiled in controversy over donations when he was a minister in her Government.

Mr Key now says the test of whether a minister stays or goes is whether he or she has done everything in accordance with the law. He says he has received an assurance from Mr Banks that he had done so.

During yesterday's question time, however, Mr Shearer asked if the Prime Minister still stood by his past statement that "the issue has never been one of legality as much as ethics. The criminal code is the bare minimum standard for society. For MPs we expect behaviour well beyond that."

Presumably because he could not remember not having said it, Mr Key replied "yes" just in case he had.

Mr Shearer's error summed up what was a pretty fruitless afternoon for Opposition parties. Mr Key parried their questions fairly easily, keeping his replies to the minimum. However, he did land one jab on the Opposition when asked why his chief of staff had rung Mr Banks for an assurance that he had not broken the law rather than Mr Key ringing the Act leader himself.

"We actually have a chief of staff, you do not," Mr Key retorted, making reference to the departure of Stuart Nash from Mr Shearer's office amidst suggestions of splits over strategy.

Labour's Trevor Mallard hit back with a question to Mr Banks - arguably the cleverest of this parliamentary session.


Under standing orders, Mr Mallard could only put questions to Mr Banks which concerned his ministerial portfolios which include education responsibilities. So Mr Mallard, tongue-in-cheek, asked Mr Banks if it was correct that he was trying to place a charter school inside the SkyCity convention complex so that his "cronies" stopped getting bad publicity about kids being left in cars.

Opposition frustration was capped off by the Acting Speaker Eric Roy declining an application for a snap debate on the sale of the Crafar farms to Chinese interests.

The House had not sat for three weeks. Yesterday was therefore the first opportunity for Parliament to debate last month's sale.

Mr Roy refused to hold a debate on the grounds that an appeal against the sale had been lodged with the High Court.

Given court action has not restrained public debate on the sale, Mr Roy's ruling seemed harsh.