Five questions Banks must answer

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 02/05/2012
John Banks
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
FIRING LINE: John Banks faces questions in Parliament.
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OPINION: 1. Have you actually read the Local Electoral Act?

2. Did you tell Kim Dotcom to split a $50,000 donation into two cheques?

3. What did Kim Dotcom want in return for his donation?

4. You admit advocating for him - when, to who, and on what subjects?

5. Did you give the prime minister the same untrue explanations you've given the media?

If John Banks is serious about doing the right thing by National and his mate John Key, he should step aside now.

It would be the end of his political career but at least he won't be accused of dragging National down with him. The growing catalogue of inconsistencies in Mr Banks' story will, if this saga carries on much longer.

Yesterday came his extraordinary admission that, on the advice of his lawyer, he did not tell the full truth – he wasn't "up-front" – about his relationship with German multimillionaire Kim Dotcom, who has now produced records to show he put two cheques worth $25,000 each into Team Banksey's campaign fund, allegedly at Mr Banks' request.

Mr Key has insisted that he would sack Mr Banks if it turned out the MP had not told him the truth – but apparently that test applies only to questions the prime minister and his office put to Mr Banks directly, not the answers he gave to the media and the public.

And, as it turns out, Mr Key's office has never actually asked Mr Banks the questions that might put the prime minister in the awkward position of knowing whether the former Auckland mayor broke the spirit, if not the letter, of the law over anonymous donations to his mayoral campaign fund in 2010 – questions such as do you know what "anonymous" means, did you tell Dotcom to divide a $50,000 donation into two cheques, what did Dotcom want from you in return, and why was it so important for you to have these donations treated anonymously, even when the donors clearly weren't fussed?

It should worry Mr Key that the latest revelation – that Mr Banks lobbied old mate and National minister Maurice Williamson over Dotcom's bid to buy a Coatesville mansion – could easily have dragged his Government into the mire as well.

Mr Williamson initially agreed to the bid but that was overturned by minister at the time Simon Power, who was apparently worried Dotcom did not meet the good-character test.

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But, having set the test – a direct lie – Mr Key must now see it through until evidence, such as phone records, emerges and stretches credulity too far.

Either that or start weighing up whether National truly needs Mr Banks around the Cabinet table – or whether the collateral damage of propping up the weakened leader of a seriously compromised party is worth the hassle.

If Mr Key is hanging on to Mr Banks in the slim hope ACT might survive the 2014 election, that fight is probably already lost.

If Mr Banks feels obliged to stay under the delusion he is shoring up National's majority, he need not worry. If there is a by-election in Epsom, National will romp in.

But the longer Mr Key is forced to defend his Epsom mate's murky campaign finances, and explain away increasingly elastic definitions of the truth, the more tarnished his promise to raise the bar on ministerial standards becomes.

Related

Banks admits he was not up front

Jane Clifton: A handy display of ignorance by all

Editorial: Bad memory or poor judgment?

- The Dominion Post

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