OPINION: John Banks has thrown New Zealand into uncharted territory by clinging on to his seat in Parliament after being found guilty of filing a false electoral return.
For the first time in living memory, the Government intends to rely on the vote of an MP found guilty of an offence serious enough under the law to cost him his seat in Parliament.
Prime Minister John Key and his Government could pretend all they liked that it was business as usual yesterday after the High Court delivered its verdict. It is anything but.
Banks would have been gone from Parliament yesterday if Justice Edwin Wylie had entered a conviction when he delivered his guilty verdict in the High Court. But Wylie delayed entering a conviction until sentencing two months from now - just one day, in fact, after Parliament rises on July 31. By then it will be largely academic whether Banks still has a seat given that he is retiring at the election anyway.
Arguably, the judge has done the Government no favours. The timing of Banks' sentencing may help National avoid a messy vote against holding a by-election in Banks' Epsom seat. But it opens the curtain on what is likely to be a chaotic and ugly few weeks before the election campaign proper gets under way.
Key will be forced to front up in Parliament and explain why his Government won't cut Banks loose. He will have to explain why he refused to delve deeper into the allegations against Banks even as the former ACT leader's memory blanks over donations to his Auckland mayoralty campaign, including one from internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, stretched credulity.
And dots will be joined between Banks and other recent scandals embroiling National MPs, including Maurice Williamson and Judith Collins.
There will also be questions about police, who threw out the initial complaints against the former police minister because of "insufficient evidence".
Key's line throughout has been that he believes Banks is an honest man. He has also distanced himself from the allegations by pointing out that they relate to Banks' time as Auckland mayor, before he re-entered Parliament as an ACT MP.
But just as his predecessor Helen Clark's lack of action against former Pacific Affairs Minister Taito Phillip Field damaged Labour, Key's decision to effectively turn a blind eye by insisting on taking Banks at his word will damage National.
His immediate problem, however, is whether to ask Epsom voters to hold their noses yet again and back an ACT candidate.
- The Dominion Post
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