A handy display of ignorance by all

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 08:06 02/05/2012
John Banks
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
FIRING LINE: John Banks faces questions in Parliament.

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OPINION: As the Kim Dotcom donation furore headed further towards burlesque, Labour leader David Shearer asked yesterday what may be the most pertinent question: is a man who is so absent-minded that he could not recall having been flown to Auckland's flashiest mansion in a private helicopter fit to be a minister of the Crown?

John Banks, whose ministerial future now rides on this and other misplaced memories of Dotcom, sat on his bench in Parliament as immobile as a tuatara, his chin hoist to the "Who, me?" position as taunts rained down upon him. And Prime Minister John Key did his "Wot, me worry?" routine, giving smart-alec answers on the subject, with his most maddening smirk.

But it was no use. Mr Banks is now big game, and the Opposition lasered question after question at the history of his "forgotten" relationship with the internet tycoon who gave his mayoral campaign "forgotten" dollars.

However, perhaps the most embarrassing blow was landed by Mr Banks' own team. Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson's disclosure of the extent of Mr Banks' lobbying for Dotcom hardly suggested a genius for persuasion. Mr Williamson said Mr Banks had phoned him to say that Dotcom was "a good friend of Auckland city" and had paid for a large civic fireworks display. That was it. "He made no further comment."

Asked whether any of Mr Banks' representations had been relevant to Mr Williamson's consideration of Dotcom's case, Mr Williamson rather witheringly said no, and sat down.

Slyest approach was Trevor Mallard's question to Mr Banks about charter schools in his capacity as associate education minister. Rolling several of the Government's problems together in an ingenious ball, Mr Mallard asked whether an application had been made to establish a charter school inside the SkyCity casino, thus eliminating the problem of gamblers' children being left outside in cars.

Mr Banks tried valiantly to answer the question as though it had been genuinely intended, but his earnest advocacy for disadvantaged children was drowned out by laughter - on both sides of the House.

Winston Peters asked several furious but elliptical questions, which acting Speaker Eric Roy ruled out of order, leading to testy exchanges - such as Mr Peters telling Mr Roy to "listen for a change".

But it was National's Nick Smith who scored here in the end, greeting one of Mr Peters' questions with the interjection, "Tell us about Owen Glenn!" Incensed to have the House reminded about his own political donation controversy, Mr Peters snapped back, "I'll tell them about you, shall I?" and proceeded to tell Mr Roy how to suck eggs. "He's being rude and it's your job to stop him!"

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Mr Peters seemed to think he had found the smoking gun, in the form of the fireworks display. He zeroed in on the fact that the disputed donation cheques had come quite a long time after the fireworks display, and extrapolated from this that Mr Banks must be "clairvoyant". Mr Roy couldn't follow this chain of logic, or how it was relevant to the primary question - and he was not alone.

After three goes, Mr Peters' fireworks question was eventually allowed - only for Mr Williamson to say he had no ministerial responsibility for fireworks or cheques.

"I don't know even know what cheques he's referring to," Mr Williamson said, effectively pinching Mr Banks' best line and achieving a perfect circularity of convenient ignorance.

- The Dominion Post

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