Banks survives donation drama

19:10, Sep 24 2012

Well after all that: thousands of words in The Daily Beast, dozens of minutes of television prime news time, endless, unproductive questions in Parliament, a visit to the House by Dotcom himself and what do we have? Only a narrow majority of 57 per cent think ACT leader and Minister outside Cabinet John Banks should be sacked.

The results of that TVNZ weekend poll must have staggered the Labour Party, as well as the country. Rarely have so many politicians and commentators fulminated at such great length to so little avail.

It is not as if ACT has much standing. It barely registers in the opinion polls at present. And the party's founder, former finance minister Roger Douglas, acknowledged the blindingly obvious when he said at the weekend that ACT's brand and credibility were both badly damaged.

Mr Banks is as guilty as sin over the donations saga. The police report makes that clear even if they could not proceed because of technicalities. But Mr Banks' protestations of innocence and Prime Minister John Key's wide-eyed, unswerving protestations that he takes his minister at his word, seem enough to placate nearly half the electorate.

Wily former National Cabinet minister Paul East probably hit the bullseye when he observed that the donations saga was 'a Molesworth St issue' - the Wellington equivalent of Washington's 'inside the Beltway' issues, which reverberate in political parts of the capital but are ignored by much of the country.

This is only one poll of course, but this explains Mr Key's relaxed demeanour when many of his colleagues have been holding their heads in their hands over Mr Banks. The Nats have an acute polling system themselves and this was obviously providing much the same pointers to the prime minister.


Many were thinking that for the sake of his own credibility Mr Key would have to cut Mr Banks adrift. After all, this was what National pushed for in the Taito Phillip Field case.

A former National MP, Mr Banks would hardly have turned feral and voted with the Opposition. But if he took demotion from his ministerial roles seriously enough to resign and force a by-election it would have posed a huge distraction. Not because there is any chance of a National candidate losing a by-election in Epsom: a blue donkey would win that, in spite of what the party loyalists have been put through. But this could have left the Government exposed, for a period, without a majority. And, Sod's Law being what it is, that's when it could be needed.

Also, a by-election would be a heaven- sent opportunity for the Opposition to put the Government on trial in Epsom, with guaranteed media cover. Clearly Mr Banks would by then be gone as an issue, but on trial would be the sale of state assets, welfare reform, education tables and the high dollar.

The biggest issue of all - who owns the water? - is a nightmare for Labour and they might be inclined to bail on that, but they could tackle instead the disarray this uncertainty has brought to the state asset sales process, which now seems likely to end up in court.

If I were Mr Key, I'd go into any by- election pushing welfare reform. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was criticised at the weekend for 'stigmatising' the parents of 20,000 odd three- and four-year-olds by making it a requirement for them to send their children to early childhood centres in return for continuing to get the benefit.

Is that really such a big ask? The problem down the track with this intergenerational welfare, which tragically produces kids who cannot read or write well enough to get jobs, is that we ultimately need costly new prisons.

These disadvantaged kids come in the main from homes which don't have books or newspapers, so why not force early education to give them a chance to get on the learning and employment ladder?

Frankly, the parents should also be required to provide their kids with breakfasts and lunches as well.

The Dominion Post