Slippery old Key said on Monday and Tuesday that he had to apply a legal test to whether John Banks should stay on as a minister. The Cabinet manual demands the highest ethical standards. Now, Key’s flip-flopped: ethics are required – but only after one becomes a minister. Which would be worrying if true. Pansy Wong won’t be the only one to note Key’s standards a slipping.
You’ll remember that Wong’s offence was using Parliamentary perks to fly to China for private business deals. Most of those flights were before she became a minister. Key had no trouble with (eventually) holding her to account for her unethical use of those perks before she was a minister. He said that he would have sacked her, had she not resigned.
Similarly, he thought that Garrett should resign from Parliament for his ethical lapse in using a dead baby’s identity to secure a passport (remember, Garrett was not convicted of any crime in that case). Hilariously, Key cites opinion polls saying that Garrett should go as a reason for him to go. Would that Key still listened to opinion polls: Banks would be gone, asset sales would be off the agenda, there would be no dirty deal with SkyCity, and Penxgin wouldn’t be buying Crafar farms, for a start.
If Key was serious about ministers only being required to behave ethically after they become ministers, that would be quite a worry – Key would have been ‘relaxed’ about Garrett becoming a minister, applying that test despite the fact he was clearly not of fitting character. At least he’s acknowledging ethics are required at some point now.
Of course, Key doesn’t really believe that ethical standards only begin once a person becomes a minister any more than he previously believed he only had to apply a legal test. Key’s flip-flopping on the standard he is applying to Banks is quite clearly an attempt to evade questions:
Asked if he was happy for ministers to act unethically as long as they complied with the law, Mr Key said: “There is quite a wide definition of ethics … The test I have to apply is the law.”
David Shearer: Does he find it acceptable for a Minister to act unethically, as long as they comply with the law?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, the member is making an assumption, or an assertion, should I say, and, secondly, I would point out to the member that the issue of ethical standards applies to Ministers when they are holding their warrants.
Metiria Turei: Given the reason that the Prime Minister lost confidence in Richard Worth was “nothing of a legal nature”, why is he applying now only a legal test to John Banks?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not. The issue in relation to Mr Worth was his ethical behaviour at the time that he was a Minister.
Key’s standards are clearly slipping as he becomes a more jaded and disconnected Prime Minister.
Political expedience will see Key continually try to redefine his responsibilities and the test of who is fit to be a minister. I don’t think the New Zealand public is dumb enough to fall for it.