I’m conflicted about how outraged I should be at Banks’ actions. Yes, Banks is guilty of deliberately trying to hide from the world the identity of donors to his campaign that (for whatever reason) he thought might prove embarrasing down the track. This is a bad thing for politicians at any level to do. However, Banks’ opponent at the relevant mayoral election was also busy hiding from the world the identity of those who funded his campaign … he just did it more cleverly by utilising a trust as a conduit. So is the real issue here that Banks just didn’t obey the letter rather than the spirit of the law?
Banks broke the law, and that is not something to be minimised. However as Geddis points out the impact of his actions is no different to what Len Brown did. They both hid donations – just that Brown used a trust to avoid disclosure (which was legal) and Banks did not.
Fourth, it is true that Banks only has to leave Parliament if he gets convicted of the offence he is guilty of (conviction and guilt are not the same thing). But I really, really hope he doesn’t get discharged without conviction – New Zealand has a terrible record of pursuing and punishing electoral offences (the police still haven’t actioned a bunch of complaints from the last election campaign!), and so to (effectively) let off an MP for breaching electoral law would reinforce the message that these sorts of rules really don’t matter. Furthermore, the honourable thing for Banks to do would be to resign now … it’s a bad look for Parliament as an institution to have an MP guilty of an offence that should see him thrown out hanging on in the hope that a court will spare him that indignity. By all means Banks should carry on trying to clear his name with appeals and the like, but he won’t be doing the institution any favours if he insists on his right to remain.
If Banks doesn’t resign, but is convicted, we then have the issue of what happens is his seat is vacated. Here’s the time-frame.
- 31 July – last House sitting day
- 1 August – sentencing of Banks
- 3 August – deadline for Registrar to notify the Speaker of conviction
- 4 August – vacancy declared in Gazette
- 14 August – Parliament dissolved
- 20 August – Writ Day for general election
- 25 August – deadline for Governor-General to issue writ for a by-election
The media have said that if Banks is convicted on 1 August, then Parliament would need to reconvene to decide not to hold the by-election. I’m not sure that would be necessary, even though it would remove doubt.
S129(4) of the Electoral Act says no by-election is needed for a vacancy that occurs after Parliament is dissolved or expires. Now the vacancy would occur before the dissolution, but the writ would not have to be issued until after the writs for the general election has been issued.
I think electoral officials could use discretion to decide that a general election writ for Epsom supercedes a by-election writ for Epsom, and not to hold the by-election eve if Parliament didn’t vote not to have it. The by-election would not be held before the general election and would be of no consequence.
So if Banks does not resign (which seems unlikely), and is convicted on 1 August, it may not be necessary for Parliament to reconvene to vote not to have a by-election. If the Government just delays the writ until after the writ for the general election, I’d say common sense would see prevail. I can’t see a Judge ever ruling that the Electoral Commission must run a by-election after the general election writs have been issue.