Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Is the House an ass?

Last night, the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill - National's squalid deal to allow its mates SkyCity to pillage the poor of Auckland in exchange for a flasher venue to hold their election night parties in - passed its second reading in the House. John Banks voted for it. Yes, the same John Banks whose political career is completely in the hands of SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison and the testimony he gives in Banks' electoral fraud trial.

Any normal person would see this as a conflict of interest. How could it not be? And yet Banks went ahead and cast his vote, without even warning the House of his conflict. As a result the Greens have laid a complaint of Breach of Privilege, for violating Standing order 162.

The deeply worrying thing is that they might not win. Standing Orders only require MPs to declare financial interests in legislation (defined as "a direct financial benefit that might accrue to a member personally, or to any trust, company, or other business entity in which the member holds an appreciable interest"). It simply doesn't cover the case where someone can send an MP to jail if they don't vote the right way. Threatening to do that would be a breach of privilege by that person, but threats need not be explicit; I'm sure Banks knows very well the position that he's in and the need therefore to keep on the good side of SkyCity. Meanwhile, there's no onus on the MP to declare that they are in such a position, even when everybody knows it and can see the strings.

In short, the House appears to be an ass. And Banks is about to rub everyone's noses in it, bringing Parliament and our democracy into further disrepute. When the law is passed on the vote of an MP whose fate is so utterly in the hands of a foreign corporation, that law can only be regarded as corruptly purchased.

As for what to do about it, I hold no hope that the regular review of Standing Orders will recommend an expansion of conflict of interest provisions to cover non-financial interests - the issue has arisen too late, and the government is just not interested. So instead, I'd like to see a solid commitment by the Greens and Labour that they will either legislate or pass a sessional order to force the disclosure of such interests. And if National objects, it tells us that the only "democracy" they want is one where MPs are controlled by corporate blackmail.