There’s some interesting speculation that the Government could collapse within months. The theory goes that the Government could lose its majority due to 1) the Maori Party walking away over the water rights issue and 2) John Banks being forced to resign over illegally anonymised donations in the 2010 Auckland mayoral election. I don’t see it happening, yet.
Let’s take the Maori Party. They will resist walking at all costs. Which means up to the point where National legislates over the top of court decisions giving Maori proprietary rights to water (which, by the way, it now turns out Key used to acknowledge Maori had until it became politically advantageous to use the issue to create racial tension). That will take a long time. I can’t imagine a High Court decision until the end of the year at the earliest. Then, an appeal, probably right up to the Supreme Court could take us well into next year (although, if they’re losing, the Government might skip straight to legislation). Then, there’s drafting time etc. It took a year from the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Ngati Apa case (which had first been taken to court six years earlier!) for legislation to be introduced and for Tariana Turia to resign. Even if the Government starts drafting early in the process, I can’t see legislation introduced until mid-next year.
Similarly, in what seems to be the likely event that John Banks is charged with offences under the Local Elections Act, I doubt he would resign immediately. That would be an admission of guilt and Banks is constitutionally incapable of that. He will fight to the end and he will seek to delay the hearings, all while saying he wants these ‘ridiculous charges’ dealt with as soon as possible. Again, I think it will be mid to late next year before Banks’ seat is vacated (interestingly, reading the Electoral Act suggests the vacancy happens on conviction at the first court, whether there are appeals or not).
And if either of these scenarios doesn’t play out (and Peter Dunne’s hair doesn’t gain sentience and strangle him as a gift to humanity), then National would still retain the numbers – at least on confidence and supply. If both those events do happen, then it’s still late 2013 before National loses its majority in the House – and that is assuming the Maori Party votes against the government, rather than abstain. I tend to think they would abstain. And that loss of a majority would be temporary – about 3 months – as Banks’ replacement would almost certainly be from National. A confidence vote instigated by the Opposition in a scenario where the Maori Party has switched sides and Banks’ seat is empty would fail on a 60-60 draw.
But I don’t think it’s all bad news. If an election were held now, National might profit from Key’s playing of the race card. Far better that court action delay the asset sales for a year at least, and the Government stumbles on, unable to do anything, bleeding support at around 0.5-1% a month as it has over the past year (I’m not sure why people are calling that a gentle decline, btw, that decline adds up over the months and this is a government that has a one seat majority on rightwing policies).
If I was the Greens and Labour, I would be preparing for an election in late 2013. But I don’t think it will actually happen. This Government is more likely to hobble all the way through.
(PS. Key has just said he will “listen in good faith” to the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal on water. A week late, mate. You just spent a week dissing the Tribunal and intimating that you would ignore its findings)