Will Pansy Wong face criminal charges for fraudulently abusing her MP’s travel perk? Will she be forced to leave Parliament triggering a(nother) by-election and possibly even an extra early election? What will Lockwood Smith’s investigation turn up? Whatever comes, at least she isn’t a minister anymore but who will replace her?
After initially defending Wong and making moronic attacks on Pete Hodgson, John Key has been forced to acknowledge the fact that one of his ministers was ripping off the New Zealand taxpayer right under his nose (he and Wong were on a trip together to China where she appears to have misused her travel allowance). His office has now released that her husband was routinely rorting the system.
It looks like there’s going to be plenty of material for Lockwood Smith to investigate, although Key’s office will be keen to get anything embarrassing out as soon as possible.
Whether it will then lead into criminal charges is harder to know. Certainly, it seems to me there will be grounds for investigation (I presume the Police will hold off until the Speaker is done). Former MPs have been convicted of rorting their travel perks but never a sitting one, it will be interesting to see whether the Police believe that her actions constituted fraud and if Wong waits out a Police investigation or jumps earlier.
Key is certainly giving her an indication that he’s happy for her to go. He hasn’t been as explicit as he was about Richard Worth (whatever his crimes were) but nor has he said that Wong can hope for forgiveness and possible reinstatement, as he was with Phil Heatley.
Of course, if Wong leaves it will trigger a by-election in Botany. I think the parties and the country probably have a bit of by-election overdose already and National will want to avoid the chance of an embarrassingly close race in Botany. Of course, Key could announce a general election will take place within six months of Wong’s resignation, forestalling the need for a by-election as long as Labour agrees, but that would mean a very early election when Ministers are meant to be getting the Budget ready.
For those reasons, I think Wong will be encouraged to stay on, sitting quietly disgraced in the back row until the election is held in July next year.
There’s talk of giving Hekia Parata a hail Mary pass for the Mana by-election – making her minister in the desperate hope that it will somehow give her a few more votes. Of course, now that National proxies are raising that possibility, if Parata isn’t given the portfolios it will look like a vote of no confidence from Key in her chances of winning.
I think Key is unlikely to take the chance of appointing a minister who is odds-on to lose an election within a week. More likely there’ll be a little shuffle with Craig Foss coming in and the portfolios being changed around. Georgina Te Heuheu (who is Acting Minister for Wong’s former portfolios) might achieve the ‘Token in National’s Cabinet’ trifecta of Pacific Island Affairs, Ethnic Affairs and Associate Maori Affairs while giving Courts to Foss. Wilkinson might pick up Women’s Affairs, to which she can be expected to apply as much diligence and intelligence as she does her other roles.
So, Wong is gone. One of the worst ministers in recent times whose one redeeming feature, according to her colleagues, was her willingness to steadfastly defend the indefensible. Here’s hoping her replacement is better, but they’ll be a Nat so no point hoping too hard.