Gordon Campbell on John Banks’ unpleasant options

Article – Gordon Campbell

Banksie-Dotcom Link Under Fire – Parliament.co.nz

A bunker mentality is becoming evident in the Act Party’s response to its current crisis – as in Berlin bunker, 1945. A reluctant admission of just how bad things are is finally seeping in, but that’s still inseparable from a high level of self-pity, self-righteousness and persecution complex. How has it come to this? Were my alleged sins really that bad? Why me ? And even now – shouldn’t people be more worried about what’s been going on at ACC, or with half a dozen other examples of government mis-management than with the fine print of the losing candidate’s expenditure return for the Auckland mayoralty, 18 months ago ?

For all that, John Banks is in the firing line, and his time is running out. The initial response of toughing it out – to claim innocence of any illegality, to fuzz the details and hope it will blow over – hasn’t worked. The details of the closeness of the relationship with Kim Dotcom keep on pouring out and have served to make the “I can’t remember” memory loss look somewhat less than entirely genuine. There is now a haze of circumstantial evidence of apparent collusion, even if no smoking gun of illegal behaviour has yet emerged. The perception is one of unethical behaviour rather than illegal behaviour, but unfortunately for Banks, there is still a requirement – even among politicians, who could hardly sink lower in the public’s estimation – of a certain semblance of ethical behaviour. While it may be an arbitrary process, there is need from time to time, for certain egregious offenders to be ritually sacrificed. If Banks does resign it may be a far, far better thing than he has ever done before.

In the past 24 hours though we’ve seen the deck-chairs being busily re-arranged, yes, he did keep Dot Com briefed about the progress of his intended land purchase. Why hadn’t the self-described up front, straight shooting John Banks been more forth coming on this before? Blame the lawyers. He’d taken “ legal advice” and now regretted doing so. The strategy seems to be to add a degree of penitence to the old mix of “ I don’t remember” and “I’ve done nothing wrong” in the hope that God, if I can only get through to Friday, the Russian tanks might drive past my bunker and go after someone else.

In the event that doesn’t happen, what then…? Resigning from Cabinet might – or might not – mean he could hang on in the short term as the Epsom MP. But Act’s future health will require him to resign as an MP as well – otherwise, his likely replacement, Catherine Isaac, would be left stranded as a leader outside Parliament (as Russel Norman was initially with the Greens ) and that would mean Act would have no access to parliamentary funding. (Libertarians may disdain anyone else feeding from the teat of the state, but they have no intention of self-funding the Act Party’s parliamentary presence.) If Banks is now irrepairably damaged goods – as he seems to be – the only route is for him to resign from Parliament entirely, and to have National agree to Isaac running virtually unopposed in the subsequent by-election in Epsom. And even if all this was possible, who would then oversee the charter school experiment, the plum job to which Isaac has just been appointed in typically shonky fashion by Banks? Quite a mess. No clear options. No wonder he is trying to hang on.


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