Prime Minister John Key has indicated he will abandon election-year game-playing such as the Epsom cup of tea stunt, and instead will be more explicit with voters about whether he wants them to vote strategically in some electorates next year.

Asked whether Act leader John Banks could expect another "cup of tea" in election year after being told he must face trial over donations returns from his unsuccessful 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign, Mr Key said it was too early to say.

He then indicated he intended to abandon such stunts and instead set out a clear position on coalition partners well in advance, including possibly openly endorsing candidates from other parties in some seats.

He said decisions would be made over the next year, but National intended to be clear with voters about its coalition options.


The cup of tea incident involving Mr Key and Mr Banks - aimed at sending a message to Epsom voters that Mr Key wanted them to vote for Mr Banks - was one of the defining features of the 2011 campaign, partly because of the fallout after a reporter's voice recorder was found on the table and the contents of the pair's conversation was later leaked.

The cup of tea became a way of signalling voters in an electorate that two parties could work together, but Mr Key's change of stance may indicate it has had its day now voters are more aware of strategic voting.

Options National will be assessing include whether it can get Mr Banks back into Parliament, whether it should give Conservative Party leader Colin Craig a clear run in a safe National electorate, or whether it can help boost the Conservatives' chances of getting more than 5 per cent of the vote.

Mr Banks resigned as a minister this week after he was committed for trial over donations from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom in the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign which were declared as anonymous.

Mr Banks said yesterday his legal team was considering his options to try to overturn that court decision.

He said he still intended to stand in Epsom for Act in 2014.

Act president John Boscawen said the board would hold its regular monthly meeting this weekend, but was 100 per cent behind Mr Banks.

Mr Key has defended Mr Banks and said he would be reinstated if he was successful in overturning the court decision, or was found not guilty at a trial.


Mr Banks' political rivals had a field day in Parliament yesterday after securing an urgent debate on his resignation. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Mr Banks should abstain from voting on the SkyCity Convention centre deal, because SkyCity's chief executive was a witness in his legal proceedings.

But Mr Banks said he had no intention of abstaining.

Mr Key said it was up to Mr Banks to decide how to vote, but said his vote was no longer needed because Lianne Dalziel's departure from Parliament to be Christchurch mayor meant Labour was one vote down.

Crown poised to step in

John Banks The Solicitor General is considering taking over the prosecution of John Banks on a charge of knowingly filing a false election return.

Mr Banks was committed on Wednesday for trial on the charge, brought in a private prosecution by Wellington man Graham McCready. The Act Party leader resigned his ministerial portfolios afterward.

Mr McCready was contacted by Solicitor General Michael Heron, QC, saying he was now reconsidering intervening in the case in light of Banks' committal.

The possibility of Crown Law taking over was welcomed by Mr McCready, although he has said he thought the Crown had a conflict of interest in the case.

"What we've decided is we'll let them do it and we'll see what happens," he said.

The Act leader is alleged to have knowingly filed a false election return after his failed 2010 Auckland mayoral bid.

Two $25,000 donations from Kim Dotcom's company and a $15,000 donation from SkyCity were declared as anonymous, but evidence was given in court that the donations were given to Banks personally.

His lawyer, David Jones, QC, argued he could not have known the return was false as he hadn't read the five pages of donations.