F*** off, says under-pressure Banks

STEVE KILGALLON, NEIL REID AND ADAM DUDDING
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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John Banks political career looks likely to be over within 36 hours.

Banks will be asked tomorrow afternoon for a decision on his future by ACT Party president John Thompson and leader Jamie Whyte.

Thompson said he was "forming a view" on whether Banks should quit Parliament, and potentially force a by-election in his Epsom constituency seat.

Banks, because he will not be sentenced until August 1, is allowed to remain in Parliament, drawing down his $147,800 salary, until the House rises at the end of July, ahead of the September 20 general election.

Banks, who was found guilty of knowingly filing a false electoral return on Thursday, did not help his situation yesterday by verbally abusing a Star-Times reporter who approached him for comment at the Stamford Plaza hotel in Auckland, where he is living.

When politely asked if he would be willing to answer questions and pose for a photograph, so that he would not face a day-long stake-out, a red-faced Banks responded: "Well I think you should sit outside all day - and now f... off."

Thompson, who is in Asia on business but returns tomorrow, was stunned at Banks' language. "Jeez, I don't think that's the sort of language that should be used," he said.

"However, the man is understandably under a lot of stress at the moment and he is seeking some time out."

Thompson said he would meet Banks on his return having spoken briefly to him yesterday morning. He said he had not advised Banks to quit: "To be frank, the problem I have is I have been in Asia for eight days. I am far removed from what is happening, physically, and trying to keep up to date. But things keep moving as soon as I am up with play."

Thompson said a decision on Banks' future would be made on Monday but he also had to consult the rest of the ACT Party board.

Whyte said Banks' outburst didn't change the situation, and he thought Banks should be given some latitude.

"He is under a lot of stress. He lost his cool, but clearly that is understandable."

Whyte told the Sunday Star-Times he had agreed yesterday morning to a request from Banks to take the weekend to consider his future.

He said he had also given Banks a commitment not to be drawn on his own views until then.

Whyte said he would not make "pre-emptive remarks. I am going to honour that. You can read into it what you want to, but I am not going to say any more".

Yesterday morning he issued a press release outlining Banks' options. Because no conviction has been entered against Banks despite the guilty verdict, there is no compulsion for him to leave Parliament.

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"He is legally entitled to remain as a Member of Parliament but he could also choose to step down as an MP prior to sentencing," Whyte wrote. He later said having the word "also" in bold was a "mistake".

His statement concluded: "John and I discussed this option earlier today and we have agreed that he will take the weekend to consider his alternatives."

Asked by TV3 if the Banks affair was turning into a "circus", he said: "I'm inclined to agree".

A CHILL FOR MPS

The verdict in the John Banks trial will send a "chill up the spine" of every political candidate, says former National Party president Michelle Boag.

Boag, who was an adviser to Banks during the failed 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign, said although Banks had been found guilty, he had done just the same as "every political candidate who has put in a donation form".

Justice Edwin Wylie found Banks guilty of filing a false electoral expense return for his supercity election bid, saying Banks must have been aware that two $25,000 donations which he declared as anonymous had in fact been made by internet businessman Kim Dotcom. B

oag said by long-held convention, local body and national political candidates weren't expected to probe closely the anonymity of donations given to them. However, Wylie's ruling effectively said that Banks "should have probed it".

"That should send a bit of a chill up the spine of every political candidate, because the convention has been that you keep political candidates removed from where the money comes from, to avoid the risk of being seen to be exercising undue influence over their decisions.

"That's been prevalent in the NZ political system for some time. This judgment says that's not good enough: you have to question those supposedly anonymous donations if you suspect you may have received them from someone and it's not on the form."

Another of Banks' supporters, Act Party campaign director Richard Prebble, said the verdict was in conflict with the attitude towards campaign donations that he'd encountered during his years in parliament.

"I've looked at MPs' declarations - which are only for $20,000 - and a third of MPs, under this ruling, should be out of parliament. I've seen declarations that are total fictions."

Prebble said the loose approach to the rules revealed "the nonsense of the thing". He said when he started his career in local body politics, he wasn't required to fill in electoral donation forms, "and I'm not sure why you have to now.

"It's just part of the political correctness of New Zealand, and all we do is catch people out with paperwork."

Prebble said while the nominal reason for requiring electoral donation returns might be to prevent the impression of undue influence by political funders, "the real reason is to intimidate people to stop them giving money to your political opponents.

"I think people who give donations for political parties are wonderful people - great New Zealanders." Earlier this year Labour leader David Cunliffe said a trust set up to handle his donations during the leadership contest last year was a lapse in judgment.

The trust allowed donors to remain anonymous. Some donors were happy to be named but two who wished to remain anonymous had their donations returned.

"I don't think in hindsight that a trust structure fully represented the values I would like to bring to this leadership," Cunliffe said of his legal but ethically questionable trust.

Banks, however, was guilty of breaking the law. "There are laws governing donations. John Banks has been found guilty in a court of law of contravening the Electoral Act.

"Politicians must all meet the requirements of the law."

LOCAL BODY DONATION RULES

Rules around disclosure of donations to local body election campaigns were tightened last year, partly in response to the Dotcom/Banks donation scandal.

Under the new rules . . .

Anonymous donations are limited to $1500 per donation.

Anything over that sum goes to the local authority running the election.

Donations of more than $15,000 must be declared in the party's annual return.

The definition of "anonymous" is expanded to include situations where the candidate could not "reasonably know" the identity of the donor.

A third party who receives a donation on behalf of a candidate must disclose the identity of the donor (if known) to the candidate.

- Sunday Star Times

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