Editorial: Cut him loose

Last updated 05:00 18/09/2012

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OPINION: The Prime Minister is confidently playing his hand as John Banks continues to feature in the political game, but it is a confidence grounded in bluff rather than a strong suit. The cards could soon fall against John Key and his flailing colleague.

The potential for further damaging disclosures is considerable. Everything about the donations to Banks' mayoral campaign is not known, as exemplified by the withholding of Banks' statement to the police. Kim Dotcom seems a bottomless fount of information and might continue his damaging releases, and members of the mayoral campaign team must know more than they have so far disclosed.

Even if more information does not emerge, the imbroglio has the potential to continue for months because of unanswered questions and the weakness of the prime minister's defence. If it does so run, the Government's reputation will be besmirched in the process. Doubts will remain about Banks' character and the prime minister's judgment.

Why Key therefore does not sack Banks from the Cabinet is mystifying. The portfolio is solely the prime minister's to give and take, the two men are not close friends, and the minister is less than a stellar contributor to the administration of the nation.

Even Banks' contribution to the coalition's parliamentary majority is no reason to keep him in the ministry. On the back benches he would still give his vote to the Right and if he resigned his seat National would win it in a byelection.

What is probably behind Key's continued confidence is obduracy. He has backed Banks from the start of the scandal and in doing so put his reputation on the line. He has also reiterated the defence that Banks has broken no law, has been honest in what he has said and that the affair is a brazen opposition ploy. To now move against his minister would be to show his defences as spurious, employed as a convenience to prevent his coalition unravelling.

But the prime minister must now make a different calculation: after the latest revelations, are the advantages of keeping Banks in the crew less than those of throwing him overboard?

Key has had days to recalculate since the release of most of the report into Banks' dealings but has refused to do so, saying the report changes nothing, which is an odd conclusion from a man who refuses to read the document.

In fact, it contains sworn testimony that Banks sought anonymous donations and knew that they had been given - which, if true, means his declaration about the content of his electoral chest stretched the bounds of truth.

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Similarly with Banks' assurances that he did not break the law. They are right, according to the police, but people will see they depend on Banks implementing the letter of the law, not its spirit.

In politics, such hair-splitting justification count for little. The voters can recognise dodgy dealings when they see them and are not prepared to excuse them on the basis of side-of-the-mouth explanations. In Banks, they surely see a man who has spent a lifetime proclaiming his rightness in all things and the pathetic fallibility of his opponents, but who now emerges as a craven political operative, prepared to push the law to its limits and justify himself with flimsy assertions.

New Zealanders have cut Banks loose and so should the prime minister.

- The Press

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