Banks faces political reality

17:00, Jun 08 2014

ACT MP John Banks's decision yesterday to resign from his seat in Parliament was probably inevitable. He had taken time over the weekend to contemplate his future.

He is likely to have been considering whether there was any scope for an appeal against the decision finding him guilty of breaching electoral law over a donation he received more than four years ago to his campaign for the Auckland City mayoralty. He had already said he would seek a discharge against conviction, which, if successful, would have saved his seat in Parliament.

But over the weekend, there had also been many calls for Banks to quit. Most had come from the usual opposition quarters, but one report also said that his own party wanted an indication from him by today on what he intended to do. There was the whiff of mob hysteria about it.

If a conviction had been entered against Banks on the guilty verdict last week, he would have had no choice. Having been convicted of an offence carrying a penalty of two years imprisonment, he would automatically have lost his seat. But without the conviction Banks could not have been made to resign by anyone, including his own party.

Although Banks did not give a specific reason for going yesterday, friends say he was likely to have quit to prevent further damage to ACT and National. That is politically realistic. There is nothing to be gained from Banks's resignation, particularly for the taxpayer, but it removes a political distraction.

He holds a constituency seat and a by-election would normally be required to fill it. That can be avoided by Parliament, though, and with the general election due in September, a by-election now would be foolish. The Government's majority will be cut by one, but with the support of its other coalition partners, it should be able to continue to govern. If governing becomes tricky, the Government could conceivably bring the general election forward although with the polls the way are at the moment, with National ahead by a clear margin, it is hard to see any opposition party pushing things to that point.

Banks has been brought down by due process - even if it was a decidedly unconventional process: started by a complaint from a fugitive from another jurisdiction, turned down at first after careful consideration by an independent Crown prosecutor, taken up privately by a twice-bankrupt serial mischief-maker, and finally taken over again, presumably to stop the private prosecution process turning the trial into a farcical mess, by the Crown.

Banks was entitled to see the due judicial process through to the end. He was, and continues to be, entitled to apply for a discharge without conviction. It is a procedure applied every day in less significant cases.

But if Banks had fully insisted on his rights it would have been a stick for others to have used against him and against the Government. It would have been an unwelcome distraction from the many far more important issues to be put to voters in the run-up to the election.