OPINION: There was no way on Earth that Prime Minister John Key was going to concede in Parliament yesterday that John Banks had said or done anything wrong - which is how the House ended up on an unscheduled trip to another planet.
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei had been questioning Mr Key's refusal to read the police report on Mr Banks' mayoral campaign donations. She said there must be a policy of 'Don't read, don't care on the Planet Key".
This was a dig at the Government's incessant mocking references to 'the Planet Labour'. But rather than irk Mr Key, it launched him on an enthusiastic flight of fancy.
'The Planet Key,' he said, would be 'a lovely place to live! It would be beautifully governed, golf courses would be plentiful, people would have plenty of holidays to enjoy their time and what a wonderful place it would be.'
It actually sounded a lot like the verdant part of Mr Key's electorate where internet mogul Kim Dotcom was living when he obliged Mr Banks with a very large donation.
'But I would expect people on such a planet - referred to as Nirvana - to comply with the law, and that is what Mr Banks did,' Mr Key concluded, with a reverential softening at the word, 'Nirvana'.
Mr Banks sat in his frontbench seat affecting the customary tuatara-like motionlessness and impassivity he reserves for when he is being discussed in Parliament. But seeing Mr Key's unwavering bravado in the face of extensive and forensic grilling about his fitness for office, he ventured to add a basking smirk.
This, and Mr Key's blithe refusal to admit any untidiness surrounding Mr Banks' activities, finally infuriated Winston Peters, who complained to the Speaker. 'Frankly, I think that if the prime minister can get away with that, he might as well just get up and say, 'Rhubarb!' '
Imbued with the carefree spirit of the Planet Key, Mr Key leapt up, flung his arms in the air crying 'Rhubarb!' and sat down.
Adding to a growing air of unreality, Labour's Grant Robertson asked if "Mr Branks had beached the law?" - inadvertently a pertinent question, because Mr Banks had not been cleared of wrongdoing; the police had simply been unable to progress the case for technical reasons.
Finally Mr Banks was forced out of basking repose when Labour's David Clark asked him questions in his capacity as minister for small business.
These centred on whether he had any legislative recommendations on the importance for people in small businesses of reading and understanding documents before signing them, and remembering receiving amounts of money.
Mr Banks parried these by saying he did not have any recommendations supporting various stupid items of Labour policy.
Again, Mr Peters' patience was exceeded. 'I understand Mr Banks' difficulty, but his loud, obfuscatory answers are not what the House wants.'
Mr Banks' patience too was by now exhausted, and he upbraided Mr Clark for being someone who had never run a business.
Mr Clark, a former Treasury official, is also a Presbyterian minister. To his credit, he refrained from offering to hear Mr Banks' confession - or discuss with him what the Opposition seems increasingly confident will soon be his last political rites.
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