01 May 2012


The ex-National Party MP and failed candidate for mayor of Auckland, John Banks, took over control of the ACT Party in a messy coup in 2011, and then did an even messier deal with the National leader so that he (Banks) could win the Epsom electorate and support Key in forming a government. Now he's creating a major headache for the PM due to allegations over whether he really 'knew' about a supposedly 'anonymous' donation from Kim Dotcom and about an effort to influence the latter's application to the Overseas Investment Office.
Banks's 'strategic use of ignorance' – pretending that the Dotcom donation was anonymous because he supposedly did not know that Dotcom had made the donation, even though Banks himself solicited it – even if it's within the law, shows a willingness cynically to manipulate the law in his own favour. The very fact that Banks was sucking up to the mega-wealthy Dotcom – who has not distinguished himself in the eyes of conservative New Zealanders – is bad enough. But using a 'veil of ignorance' (legally or not) to shield this close relationship and its donations from public scrutiny is much worse.
Banks has also brought into disrepute the very justification for having anonymous donations: that, being anonymous, the candidate is not beholden to the donor for political favors. Any reform of local government electoral finance laws will have to include provisions for much greater transparency.
We now have to ask not only should Banks stand down while the matter is investigated by the Police, but, further, is this the beginning of the end of ACT? Could ACT survive another election?
Banks appears to have become a major political liability for the National-led government, and it may only be a matter of time before he is stood down from his ministerial portfolio, or even cut loose altogether. The implications for the future of the Key government would be interesting, if that happens.
In the meantime, Key will have to defend the indefensible, but that may not be possible for much longer.


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