John Banks: A life in politics

Last updated 14:30 05/06/2014

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Being found guilty of filing a false electoral return leaves a lasting stain on John Banks' long and chequered political career.

Banks, 67, was today found guilty of the charge, and now could face banishment from Parliament - if he is convicted. He will seek a discharge without conviction.

As a teenage boy, Banks stood outside the High Court vowing to never follow the path of his jailed parents.

But in a twist on his life story, the former ACT Party leader has just spent two weeks in the dock at the High Court in Auckland, defending the electoral return charges.

The trial came at a career cost before it even started.

Banks quit ACT's leadership position and resigned from his ministerial roles last year after he was ordered to stand trial.

His resignations came after more than three decades in politics that was never far from the spotlight.

Banks has jumped between political roles during his long career.

Through various triumphs and controversies, he always managed resurface.

He leaped in and out of the Beehive. He bore the weight of the mayoral chains in the country's biggest city - twice.

He was leader of the ACT Party, MP for Epsom, a National MP, and held numerous portfolios, including that of police minister.

He's been accused of racism and homophobia, fined for answering his phone during a commercial flight, and courted a political alliance over a controversial cup of tea.

It was a career spurred by the politician's determination to be a success on the right side of the law.

In a rags-to-right-wing story, Banks grew up living at his aunt's house and foster homes.

His parents, Archie and Kitty Banks, were imprisoned for performing backstreet abortions.

Kitty was an alcoholic and Archie a career criminal.

Banks recently spoke of his troubled early family life.

"Half a century ago on a wet Friday afternoon, I witnessed my mother and father get sentenced to very long terms of prison and taken away, " he said following his own court appearance in December.

"I stood outside the High Court as a 17-year-old absolutely committed to a lifetime of hard work, honest endeavour and public service to try and balance the family ledger."

He made the teenage commitment after spending two years living with his father in Auckland.

Banks described it "as the most exciting, bewildering and frightening years of my life," in the book New Zealand's Gangster Killings: The Bassett Road Machine-Gun Murders, about the 1963 murders of bootleggers Kevin Speight and George Walker whose bullet-riddled bodies were found at a Remuera property

Banks said he had held the gun responsible for the machinegun murders during this time.

A man came to his father's home with the machinegun and the men there took it outside and fired off a few rounds.
Banks said he held the gun during the men's visit, but didn't fire it.

Stepping out alone, Banks got his first job collecting glass bottles at the sly-grog houses and selling them.

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Salesman, restaurateur, property developer and broadcaster were later added to his resume.

He then got a political leg-up from former National police minister, Allan McCready, who took him under his wing.

In 1981 Banks was elected to Parliament as the National MP for Whangarei.

He left Parliament in 1999 and became mayor of Auckland in 2001. He lost the next election but returned as mayor in 2007.

Banks failed in the 2010 Auckland super city mayoral race and the next year returned to Parliament as the sole MP for ACT.

It wasn't long before he was back in a media storm.

Banks had met John Key for a cup of tea as a publicity exercise in the leadup to the election, when the conversation was controversially recorded by a journalist.

The cup of tea was to signal to National voters that Key endorsed Banks and ACT for the Epsom seat.

The teapot controversy made headlines for months.

Just when that faded, Banks was back in the spotlight amid accusations over how donations to his failed 2010 mayoralty bid were recorded.

Banks has insisted he has "nothing to hide and nothing to fear".

But can he resurface from what is probably the biggest controversy of his career?


Much of the coverage of the court case has focused on internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom's relationship with Banks, a politician who admitted to not knowing how to use the internet.

Banks was charged with transmitting a return of electoral expenses for his failed 2010 Auckland mayoralty bid, knowing it was false in a material particular.

The charge related to two cheques of $25,000 from Dotcom and one of $15,000 from SkyCity for campaign.

Banks was accused of knowing who made the donations, but recording them as anonymous.

After police decided not to charge Banks, retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready brought a private prosecution that was subsequently taken over by the Crown Law Office.

MPs must vacate their seats if convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of two years or more imprisonment.


- Stuff

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