His political career is in tatters, and former ACT MP David Garrett's fallback job as a lawyer could be under threat from a possible professional misconduct investigation.
Mr Garrett resigned from ACT in disgrace yesterday after it emerged that he lied to police and kept an assault conviction secret from the judge who let him off a charge of stealing a dead toddler's identity and suppressed his name.
ACT leader Rodney Hide, who knew about both prosecutions when he urged Mr Garrett to stand for Parliament in 2008, said he was forced to withdraw his support when he learned about the dishonesty.
He admitted showing a lack of judgment over Mr Garrett. It was "a tough time" for ACT but he would not consider resigning.
Labour leader Phil Goff said ACT had been "thoroughly" discredited, and should lose its ministerial portfolios.
Mr Hide was returning from Hong Kong yesterday when Mr Garrett abruptly announced his resignation on radio. He fled Parliament after admitting his political career was over – leaving Mr Hide to face media alone.
Quizzed on how much he knew about the deception, Mr Hide was unsure if Mr Garrett told him how he obtained the passport. "I think I remember that he got something off the cemetery. I didn't know the age of the child." He had not had the chance to ask Mr Garrett if he had been truthful in court.
Nigel Hampton, QC, a former head of the Law Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, said he suspected the Law Society would start an inquiry into Mr Garrett without waiting for a complaint to be laid. It would look at whether Mr Garrett's passport scam and misleading the court were serious enough to warrant action for professional misconduct.
Mr Garrett is still on the roll of barristers and solicitors but does not hold a practising certificate. He used to be a barrister in Auckland and Tonga.
The debacle has put Mr Hide's leadership on the line. His hold on Epsom has previously protected him because ACT is doomed on current polling unless it retains an electorate seat. But Mr Hide needs National to endorse him in the seat to survive, and that is looking increasingly unlikely.
A leadership challenge could come from either former deputy Heather Roy or current deputy John Boscawen. Yesterday Mr Hide insisted his remaining three MPs still backed him as leader. None would publicly declare their support, though a party spokesman said Mr Boscawen "was 100 per cent behind Rodney Hide".
Before yesterday, Mr Hide had the support of Mr Boscawen and Mr Garrett, holding a majority over Mrs Roy and Sir Roger Douglas. If Mr Garrett resigns as an MP, his replacement would be Dunedin lawyer Hilary Calvert. Yesterday, she said Mr Hide had her support as leader.
ACT board vice-president Bruce Haycock said he was worried about who leaked information about Mr Garrett's past. Mrs Roy's former ministerial adviser, Simon Ewing-Jarvie, denied being the source. He previously leaked a damaging 82-page dossier revealing rifts within the party.
ACT president Michael Crozier could not say if Mr Hide had the board's support: "We haven't had a board meeting in the last few days so how can I answer that? I think he's done a splendid job in ... a really difficult situation."
But ACT candidate Peter Tashkoff, a Hide critic, said the leader had to take responsibility for letting Mr Garrett into the party.
Prime Minister John Key said Mr Garrett needed to think "seriously" about his future as an MP. National would refuse to strike a deal with him if he stayed as an independent.
But he was happy with how Mr Hide had handled the matter and had his full support.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Are you for or against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement?Related story: TPP talks fail to reach agreement