Banks shuffles towards retirement

HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 17:01 04/12/2013
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ

ACT leader John Banks has announced he will quit at next year's election, but will stand down as the party's leader in March.

John Banks through the ages
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ Zoom
John Key and John Banks have their infamous cup of tea in 2011.

John Banks to stand down

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John Banks' actions are leading him towards "a room without a view" according to the man who initiated a private prosecution against the ACT leader for electoral fraud.

Graham McCready, who started the legal action which will see Banks stand trial next year, said the former Auckland mayor was right to signal that he would stand down as party leader, but should now resign as an MP and plead guilty at the first opportunity next week.

"The longer he drags it out the more likely it is that a room without a view is looming in his future," McCready said.

If he went to the Crown Solicitor or Solicitor General and offered to plead guilty to a lesser charge of recklessly making a false declaration, he may avoid further trouble, he said.

"If he pleaded guilty to that he wouldn't have to leave Parliament," McCready said.

"If he had've come to me a year ago I would have said yes. And that's the kind of thing that Trevor Mallard did. Accept responsibility to a lesser charge, get it over with.''

In 2007 McCready launched a private prosecution against Mallard after he punched National MP Tau Henare in Parliament.

Mallard initially pleaded not guilty to assault, but later agreed to a lesser charge of fighting in a public place.

McCready said Banks should adopt a similar approach.

The retired accountant, who himself has been convicted of blackmail, said the High Court decision to send Banks totrial was vindication.

"It's also vindication for basically the fact that the judicial system's working very well. The executive branch of government is on notice from the judicial system that they're not going to put up with the shenanigans in respect to not being prosecuted and having their charges thrown out on spurious grounds," McCready said.

'I'VE DONE NOTHING WRONG'

ACT leader John Banks confirmed he would quit politics at next year's election this morning, adding that he would stand down as the party's leader in March.

He insisted had done nothing wrong and said no-one who knew him would accuse him of knowingly filing a false election return.

"I've done nothing wrong so why would I resign?"

His decision today might look like an admission of guilt to some, but Banks insisted it was not.

He said he would continue to serve his constituents in Epsom - and he said the decision would not affect his coalition deal with National.

"The next election will be very close, very close. Like last time ACT and Epsom will make a difference.

"That is why I am not standing as the ACT candidate in Epsom."

The party needed to relaunch and regear, he said.

Banks said he was not fearful of the court process or where it would end. But he could not devote his energy to getting ACT returned to Parliament next year.

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"It is now time for me to move on from this place," he said.

In a statement published on the party website he said he had decided to spend more time with his family and business interests.

The statement said: "Since 2008, ACT has supported the John Key-lead National coalition government in providing stable centre right government to New Zealand.  The importance of this has been recognised by the voters of Epsom, who have continued to elect an ACT MP throughout this time."

Asked if it was a mistake that he returned to Parliament, Banks laughed.

"It's been difficult...this is a very different place...it's much more feral, it's much more septic, it's quite a lot more nasty."

Banks said the party needed a "circuit breaker."

"It can't happen with me facing regular visits to court and a trial next year."

The party would shortly open nominations for candidates. It would contest Epsom and announce its new candidate for the electorate in March at the party's annual conference.

Party president John Boscawen indicated he would not stand - saying he had not regretted his decision to quit Parliament at the 2011 election.

Boswcawen wouldn't speculate on whether Prime Minister John Key would help ACT to win Epsom in 2014.

"I suspect he will, I don't know," he said.

Boscawen insisted the party could rebuild.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said ACT leader John Banks should quit Parliament immediately.

"Clearly this is a Government that is propped up by the mad, the bad and the sad," he said today.

"It looks like Mr Banks is in trouble and should resign from Parliament.

"He has said that he cannot continue to do his duties as a leader of his party ... and secondly because it is not appropriate for the Government's majority to be propped up by somebody who is on electoral fraud charges."

Cunliffe said was counting the numbers not principles.

Labour respected the court process and the concept of innocence until proven guilty. However, he said Banks was a "disgrace" because of the "circumstances that lead to this place".

Banks responded to Opposition calls for him to go with: "Get a life."

Meanwhile ACT past president Catherine Isaac would not comment on whether she would run as a candidate or leader.

She confirmed she is "not really" involved with the party, beyond chairing the Partnership Schools Working Group.

Charter schools were a flagship ACT policy, with the first of five opening in February 2014.

ELECTION FRAUD TRIAL

Yesterday, a second judge ordered Banks to stand trial for electoral fraud next year.

The decision came after Banks appeared last week in the High Court in Auckland where he sought a review of the initial District Court decision for him to stand trial.

The trial, in an election year, would be embarrassing for both ACT and National. Banks, a former National police minister, is ACT's sole MP, and the Government relies on him for a majority on many issues.

Judge Gittos ruled Banks should face trial over the campaign donations - two of $25,000 from internet mogul Kim Dotcom and a $15,000 cheque from SkyCity - that were recorded as anonymous.

The ruling came after a private prosecution brought by retired accountant Graham McCready. He said Banks knew the donations to the mayoral campaign were not made anonymously and that designating them as such was against the law.

Banks has pleaded not guilty.

The donations scandal was revealed by Dotcom.

Banks said he didn't know what Dotcom's motives were but said he the internet mogul "has his own legal challenges."

POLITICAL FALLOUT

The Greens were the first Opposition party to react to the news.

Co-leader Russel Norman said "the wheels have well and truly fallen off the National-ACT Government."

"ACT may be distancing itself from John Banks, but, sadly, New Zealand is stuck with him till the next election. A fundamental player of the National-ACT Government is so discredited his own party has rejected him."

Prime Minister John Key said Banks made "the right call."

"I don't think that's a tremendous surprise," he told a radio station this morning.

"I actually personally think he's a guy that's had a very good and distinguished career in both local and central government. But I think he has made the right call for his family and himself."

BANKS' POLITICAL CAREER

- © Fairfax NZ News

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