Banks resignation: Key confirms National will abandon employment law change ahead of election
UPDATE / June 9: At his post-cabinet press conference, Prime Minister John Key confirmed National will not attempt to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill following John Banks' resignation.
John Banks to resign Epsom seat Friday
UPDATE / June 8. 5pm: ACT has just released a statement from John Banks saying he will resign his Epsom seat Friday.
Given it is now less than six months before the election, it is unlikely** a byelection will be called, leaving National reliant on the Maori Party for a majority until Parliament breaks up July 31 ahead of the September 20 election. That effectively scuppers the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, and its sister legislation, the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill, which would allow the casual labour to replace fulltime workers during a strike — at least during this Parliamentary term. The Maori Party strongly opposes both bills.
Mr Banks faced the near-certainty of being forced to resign after being sentenced on August 1.
The Epsom MP has applied for a discharge — the only outcome that would have allowed him to cling to his seat — but his odds are rated low.
Whyte seen stomping on Prebble
Political commentator and ACT consigliere Matthew Hooton sees the weekend's events as a clear example of ACT leader Jamie Whyte asserting himself over the party's old guard.
Campaign manager Richard Prebble made comments Saturday morning indicating he thought Mr Banks could stay; the Epsom MP had made a "clerical error" that was being treated as a crime — suggesting the narrative that ACT is tough on blue collar crime, but soft on white collar offending.
Mr Whyte took the opposite tack, meeting with Mr Banks and effectively telling him if he didn't resign by the end of the weekend, "the decision would be made for him" and his party membership revoked, Mr Hooton says.
Meanwhile, National stood down candidate Paul Goldsmith from a TV3 Epsom candidates debate this weekend — sending a clear signal that the Banks controversy has not affected the chances of a cuppa deal for ACT's David Seymour.
Mr Banks' statement:
Further to the of the decision of the High Court at Auckland last Thursday, I will resign the seat of Epsom effective from 5pm this Friday the 13th of June 2014.
I will write to the Speaker tomorrow advising him of my resignation.
This timeframe allows a number of constituency, administrative and staffing matters in Epsom and Wellington to be dealt with over the next few days.
I have been privileged to serve the people of Epsom and New Zealand at both a local level and in Wellington.
I have given my heart and soul over four decades to making a worthwhile contribution to this country. I have always endeavoured to do the right thing. Consequently I am deeply saddened at this turn of events.
As the matter is still before the Court I will be making no further comment.
** Given it is now within a six month window before the general election, the government can introduce a motion against a byelection. John Key says his government will do so when the house sits again next week. 75% of MPs in favour of the motion for it to pass. Labour and the Greens have indicated they will support the government's motion, meaning there would be no byelection.
UPDATE / June 8, 9am: ACT leader Jamie Whyte tells NBR a report he and ACT president John Thompson are meeting John Banks today is incorrect.
However, The Epsom MP still has a date with destiny. "I will certainly talk to him on Monday," Dr Whyte says.
UPDATE / June 7: ACT leader Jamie Whyte has upped the pressure on John Banks to accept his guilty verdict.
Midday today, Mr Whyte released a statement saying:
John will be sentenced on the 1st August, and has applied for a discharge without conviction.
Until then he is legally entitled to remain as a Member of Parliament but he could also choose to step down as an MP prior to sentencing.
John and I discussed this option earlier today and we have agreed that he will take the weekend to consider his alternatives.
One reading of that final sentence would be: if Mr Banks doesn't decide to go by the end of the weekend, he could get pushed.
Thursday, the ACT leader said "We must accept the court's decision."
Mr Whyte says he agrees with Prime Minister John Key that the verdict has not damaged ACT's brand.
It will be harder to make that argument if events drag on closer to the election.
After the guilty verdict was delivered, Auckland University Law School Associate Professor Bill Hodge told NBR there was almost no chance Mr Banks will be discharged without conviction.
The ACT MP was found guilty under Section 134(1) of the Local Electoral Act for knowingly filing a false electoral return (or being "willfully blind" as Justice Ed Wylie put it) , which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and/or sentence of up to two years in prison. Prof Hodge had seen some hope for Mr Banks but only if he was found guilty of the lesser Section 134(2) or unknowlingly filing a false return, which carries a fine of up to $5000 but no possible prison term.
He will be sentenced on August 1.
If Mr Banks loses his application for a discharge, and is formally convicted on August 1, then he will have to resign his seat whether or not he is jailed. The key point in terms of the Electoral Act would be that he has been convicted of a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, triggering the law's resignation clause.
ACT leader Banks verdict: 'We must accept the court’s decision'
June 5: ACT leader Jamie Whyte has put pressure on John Banks to accept the High Court's guilty verdict in his electoral return trial.
"I am surprised by the verdict in the case against Mr Banks as the John Banks I know would never knowingly file a false return. However, we must accept the court’s decision," Mr Whyte said in a statement released late afternoon.
"David Seymour, ACT's candidate for Epsom, is already serving the electorate full time."
Mr Banks resigned as ACT leader in the run-up to his case, and is due to resign as the party's Epsom MP at the September 20 election.
Mr Whyte said he agreed with Prime Minister John Key's statement that the verdict will not damage the ACT Party brand.
But if events drag out closer to the September 20 election, it will get harder to make that case.
Mr Banks, who will be sentenced on August 1, has yet to say if he will appeal, or apply for his conviction to be discharged.