Craig may be manna from heaven for Key

Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012

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He might be the answer to National's coalition prayers, but Conservative Party leader Colin Craig was once accused of preaching that being short is a sin.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed the Conservative Party was a potential support partner for a centre-Right Government after ACT party MP John Banks was engulfed by a donations scandal last week.

National is distancing itself from ACT's sole MP as he looks increasingly unlikely to survive the 2014 elections.

But Mr Craig's "morally conservative" party could also court controversy, with revelations yesterday about prayer meetings at his property management company.

Former employee Jacky Stiekema raised a personal grievance, saying she was required to attend weekly devotions.

She was upset by the reading of a Bible passage in 2007 about Zacchaeus the tax collector who climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus. She believed Mr Craig was implying that being short was a sin and it was a personal attack as her son was "not tall".

Mr Craig has denied the allegation and the Employment Relations Authority found he did not make the reference. "The employee made various claims, including saying she was forced to attend prayer meetings, and that being short was a result of sin," he said.

"We have weekly team meetings, which are usually closed with a short prayer, shorter than the prayer they say to open Parliament. As for being short, that's obviously a result of genetics.

"If I had anything against short people I'd be in trouble with my wife [Helen], who isn't especially tall."

The authority awarded Mrs Stiekema $3000 because the company did not follow due process over a disciplinary meeting. Mr Craig said he was a Christian but did not attend church.

"I realise some people see a prayer as controversial but I'm really relaxed about it ... We were happy with the Employment Relations Authority decision, which found these and other allegations were unfounded."

Mr Key said he had not spoken to Mr Craig recently, although they had met twice over the anti-smacking law.

It emerged at the weekend that National Party president Peter Goodfellow was seeking out Mr Craig and that Mr Key's electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, attended a Conservative Party meeting.

Asked if he had any problems doing another deal with Mr Banks at the next election, Mr Key said: "I think the important point there is it's a deal with the ACT party, and I think we've worked with them very constructively in the past." He quickly added: "I'm not saying particularly having a deal with John Banks [is an] issue either but the point there is we deal with parties not individuals."

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Mr Key is yet to have a direct conversation with his minister outside Cabinet, relying on his chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, to seek assurances from Mr Banks about donations to his bid to become mayor of Auckland's supercity.

Police are investigating whether Mr Banks broke local electoral rules over $65,000 in donations from SkyCity casino and alleged internet pirate Kim Dotcom.

- Wellington

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