John Banks' position 'untenable'
IAN STEWARD, LAURA WALTERS AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
ACT MP John Banks' position in Parliament is untenable, say opposition MPs, regardless of whether he's been formally convicted of the electoral charges.
Banks, the MP for Epsom and the former leader of the ACT Party, was yesterday found guilty in the High Court of knowingly transmitting a false electoral return in his 2010 campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.
It came down to Banks' word against internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom's, and Justice Edwin Wylie sided with the German.
But the Government will continue to count on John Banks' vote, even as the former Auckland mayor faces being the first sitting MP in almost a century to be kicked out of Parliament because of a conviction.
Wylie delayed entering a conviction until Banks is sentenced on August 1 - the day after the House rises for the September 20 election. Meanwhile, he has asked for a report on Banks' suitability for home detention.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison or a $10,000 fine, and a conviction would mean immediate expulsion from Parliament. Banks has already announced he will not stand at the next election.
The events mean Banks is free to continue to vote as an MP, and draw an annual salary of at least $147,800 plus expenses and allowances.
Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that the verdict had no impact on the stability of the Government, which could pass legislation with the support of UnitedFuture and the Maori Party.
"I would stress that Mr Banks is still an elected member of Parliament able to exercise his vote as he wishes, according to the people who elected him," Brownlee said.
Speaker David Carter said in statement that until sentencing there was no change to Banks' status as an MP.
Although Banks is not needed to pass legislation, Prime Minister John Key continued to stick up for him last night.
"In my experience of dealing with him, over the period of time that he's been both the leader of the ACT Party and in Parliament, and my previous dealings with him, I've always found him to be very honest," he said.
But opposition MPs, unsurprisingly, have been less forgiving.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said the decision showed the Government was being "propped up by a corrupt politician", but it appeared the law was clear that until a conviction was entered, Banks would not be required to leave Parliament.
"Let's assume Mr Banks is going to be sitting in his seat, reminding New Zealanders that he is a guilty politician, who has knowingly breached electoral law, and that the current Government is being propped up by his ilk," Cunliffe said.
NZ First Leader Winston Peters said Banks should do the "decent thing" and vacate his seat in Parliament.
"He may have options on this matter still, but whatever those options are, he should come to those options and choose them with clean hands, as it were," Peters said.
"Staying in Parliament in circumstances where others would not be able to, and have not been able to in the past, surely can't be the right option."
Yesterday's verdict related to two $25,000 donations from Dotcom towards Banks' unsuccessful bid in 2010 to become the first mayor of the Auckland super-city, and a $15,000 donation from SkyCity.
During last month's trial, Dotcom, his estranged wife, and his former security guard, testified that when Banks met him, the mayoral hopeful asked that the donation be structured in a way so as to be recorded as anonymous.
If Banks is ultimately convicted, it is believed it would be the first time since Grey MP Paddy Webb was jailed for sedition in 1918, that a current MP has been ousted from Parliament because of a conviction.
Banks spoke to his supporters quietly, with his lawyers by his side, after the verdict was delivered, telling them it was not the end.
"We've got to push on," he said.
Outside court, Banks said he was disappointed and surprised by the verdict and his team would be looking at his legal options.
"There's a wonderful 1930s song, On To Every Life Some Rain Must Fall, and for me the rain is still falling," he said.
Asked if he accepted that he had done something wrong Banks said: "From day one I have told you I have never filed a false anything let alone a false return."
Retired accountant Graham McCready, whose private prosecution of Banks led to the hearing, said he was "stoked" at the verdict.
"I always said it's never over until the fat man sings Mozart, so here you go," he said.
He launched into song, singing: "Banks you're convicted" for assembled media.
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