The National led Government is taking a battering at the moment, and for good reason, yet the Speaker is doing his best to protect it. Since first coming to power there have been numerous examples of decisions and behaviour that raised concerns about National's understanding of ethics and morality. Since I wrote an earlier post titled 15 Ethical "Fails" Under National there have been a number more. The Skycity judgement revealed poor process and an unfair advantage and Hekia Parata has been found wanting in two legal cases that demonstrated a lack of proper consultation and diligence involving school closures.
The issue of the moment is National's blindness to the obvious conflict of interest that John Banks has regarding his vote on the Skycity deal. Metiria's questioning of the Prime Minister's views on the matter put Key on a back foot. The logic of Metiria's argument was irrefutable and his mumbled responses lacked his usual bravado.
At one point Metiria asked:
"How can he consider that John Banks does not face a conflict of interest when the CEO of Skycity needs Banks' single vote to ensure the casino secures a massive increase in business, while that same Skycity CEO is in court giving evidence that could sink John Banks' political career?"
Key's reply, "I don't accept the proposition from the member," followed by a quick intake of breath was hardly convincing. He didn't even try to put forward a different take on the situation.
"Is the Prime Minister seriously telling the house that he is genuinely unconcerned about allowing one of his Ministers, who is dependent on the Sky City CEO (who could make or break that Minister's political career), to have the deciding vote on a deal that is worth more than $400 million dollars to the Sky city casino?"
"I don't accept the proposition from the member, for the Skycity convention centre, which I understand these days that the Labour Party's supporting, quietly."
Key's last statement drew loud responses from Labour MPs who tried to use points of order to ask why the speaker allowed the Prime Minister to comment on their party's position (and providing deliberate misinformation) when he had no authority to do so. Key had cleverly avoided attention to his weak answer to Metiria by creating a diversion. Labour could not understand the subsequent ruling from the Speaker that although it was Metiria's question, Key's jibe at the Labour Party in his answer was acceptable. David Carter explained that Metiria had asked a politically loaded question (really?), therefore the Prime Minister's response was understandable. With the support of the Speaker, Key had successfully sidestepped proper attention to his weak answer by creating an argument with Labour (sadly, rather than support Metiria's question line they bought into Key's strategy).
Key's lack of ethics and integrity allows him to easily exploit the self righteous rage of others by pressing buttons as the need arises. His smug smile when he is successful is telling. He will stop at nothing to ensure that John Banks' vote will carry the day.
Due to the highly unsatisfactory answers the day before Metiria tried again in the following session to get a definitive answer from the Government how they could tolerate a clear conflict of interest. Unfortunately she was blocked from asking a question that described the Skycity deal as sleazy and was ordered out of the house when using a number of points of order to try and establish which part of the question was inappropriate (after the Speaker had explained he had no objection to the use of the word sleazy).
It is apparently perfectly ethical and above board to:
- Do a back room deal with Skycity, that included changes in law to benefit the company, and not offer the same deal to competitors.
- Gifting Skycity 510 gaming machines and tables (the equivalent of another large casino), in exchange for a convention centre, while at the same time the country is attempting to reduce the number of pokies because of the social and economic harm they cause.
- Build a convention centre effectively on the misery of hundreds of new problem gamblers (each new machine produces an average of .8 of a problem gambler). This would also impact on hundreds of families and businesses many of the gamblers will defraud to feed their addiction.
- Allow the casting vote for the Skycity bill to come from a recently resigned Minister on trial for fraud, whose freedom and political career is dependent on a testimony from the CEO of the company that will profit from his vote.
- Continue with a convention centre deal that will create more problem gamblers than actual jobs.
It is obviously not OK (according to the Speaker) to describe the deal by including the word "sleazy". Also, according to his rulings, questioning the ethics of the Government is deemed too politically loaded to expect a direct and clear answer.