Prime Minister John Key has announced he accepted the resignation of ACT Leader John Banks as Small Business and Regulatory Reform Minister after the Auckland District court ruled on Wednesday afternoon that Banks had to face trial over allegations of electoral fraud.
Key said he would reinstate Banks if any Banks appeal was successful or he was found not guilty at trial. Banks had pledged to continue to meet the terms of his confidence and supply agreement with the National-led Government.
“Mr Banks indicated to my Chief of Staff late last week that in the event the Judge ruled against him, he would tender his resignation as a Minister,” Key said in a statement.
“It is with regret that I announce today that I have accepted that resignation, and will be advising the Governor-General accordingly. Mr Banks maintains his innocence but realises this is a distraction for the Government and has offered to resign as a Minister," Key said.
“Even though the events occurred before Mr Banks entered Parliament in 2011, this is totally the right call and I have accepted Mr Banks’ offer to resign as a Minister," Key said.
“Without prejudging the outcome of these legal avenues, if Mr Banks is successful on appeal or proved to be not guilty at trial, it is my intention to reinstate him as a Minister.
Key said he would reallocate Banks’ portfolios to existing ministers and announce that in the next few days.
Key later told reporters he did not expect Banks to abstain in an upcoming vote in Parliament over the SkyCity Convention Centre, and he agreed Banks' vote was not necessary anyway as the Government had slight majority without him. Key said he expected the Bill to pass into law before the end of the year.
Labour has called on the Government to cut Banks off completely from the Government.
"John Banks has lied to the Prime Minister, Parliament and all of New Zealand over his electoral return which included donations from both SkyCity and Kim Dotcom that were wrongly submitted as anonymous," Labour's Deputy Leader Grant Robertson said.
“It is time for John Key to cut Mr Banks loose. His government cannot be propped up by a man accused of defrauding democracy. He must remove the ministerial portfolios from Mr Banks and end the government support agreement with the ACT party," Robertson said.
The Green Party earlier called for Key to demand Banks abstain on the Convention Centre Bill.
"SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison gave evidence at Mr Banks’ preliminary hearing and will give evidence in the criminal case which has the potential to sink Mr Banks’ political career. At the same time the SkyCity bill relies on Mr Banks’ single vote to pass," Green Co Leader Metiria Turei said.
“Its impossible not to see that John Banks will be hugely conflicted if he votes on the SkyCity Bill, the success of which is worth more than NZ$400 million to the casino. MPs have previously abstained from voting for much less serious conflicts of interest," she said.
(Updated with opposition comments, Key comments from news conference)