Editorial: John Banks makes an ass of the law

NO PROSECUTION: John Banks has faced accusations over donations given to his failed super-mayoralty campaign.
NO PROSECUTION: John Banks has faced accusations over donations given to his failed super-mayoralty campaign.

When Parliament sits at 2pm today, ACT leader and minister for various minor portfolios John Banks will be free to take up his usual position in the front row of the cross benches. He should not be. The former police minister has made a complete ass of the law.

The 2010 Auckland mayoral candidate has avoided prosecution for knowingly filing a false electoral return, only because police could not establish he read the return before he signed it. He appears to have avoided prosecution for the lesser offence of filing a false return only because the six-month time limit for the laying of charges had expired by the time a complaint was made.

Prime Minister John Key, who depends upon Mr Banks' vote to pass some Government legislation, says the police decision not to prosecute confirms Mr Banks complied with the law. By any standard, that is a generous interpretation.

The facts, as established by the police, are these: in May 2010, Mr Banks was handed a $15,000 cheque from SkyCity Casino. In June 2010 he personally solicited a donation from internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom that resulted in two $25,000 donations being made to his campaign fund. In September of the same year he personally solicited a $15,690 contribution towards his advertising expenses from a donor whose identity police have agreed to keep secret.

Subsequently Mr Banks signed an electoral return in which all three donors were listed as anonymous, even though the evidence leads to only one conclusion - he knew their identities.

His explanation was that the return was compiled by a campaign volunteer who assured him it was accurate.

Now we know. The minister's signature signifies nothing other than that he knows how to write his name. By no stretch of the imagination should its presence on a document be taken as evidence that he has read the document or stands by its contents.

Were ordinary citizens to operate to the same standard business and government could not function. No-one would be responsible for anything.

Part of the fault for the debacle lies with the Local Electoral Act. Its intentions are laudable - to promote openness and discourage influence-buying - but its provisions are unenforceable.

However, the lion's share of the blame rests with Mr Banks, who, it will be remembered, claimed, when questions were first asked about his return, that he did not remember who had donated money to his campaign and did not remember discussing money with Mr Dotcom or the entrepreneur's staff.

"I kept the finances of the campaign [at] arm's length," he told one reporter. Presumably it was not the arm with which he accepted the cheque from SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison.

Mr Banks should be stood down as a minister for failing to meet the high standards of personal conduct set so far by the prime minister. He won't be. Mr Key needs his vote.

Labour had Winston Peters. National now has John Banks.

The Dominion Post