Former National MP and Auckland Mayor John Banks has announced his retirement from politics and said he will not stand again for ACT in the Epsom electorate at the 2014 General Election.
The announcement reinforces the scale of the challenge the National-led coalition faces in getting re-elected, given the weakened state of National's support partners. The Maori Party's support has waned in opinion polls, United Future's Peter Dunne resigned as a minister earlier this year and Banks had already resigned as a minister.
The announcement follows a High Court ruling yesterday that Banks may face charges of electoral fraud after he failed to declare that Sky City and Kim Dotcom had donated to his Mayoral campaign.
"I am simply not able to dedicate all my energy and ability on returning ACT to Parliament in bigger numbers next year while fighting to clear my name," Banks told a news conference with ACT President John Boscawen in his Bowen St office opposite Parliament.
"This allows ACT to select a new candidate to put before the people of Epsom for the next election. That candidate will have the maximum opportunity to apply their energy and ability on earning the confidence of the people of Epsom," Banks said, adding he would continue to serve as leader until the Party's annual conference in early March.
"This allows the ACT Party to look to a new Leader to take it into the election campaign next year. That Leader can focus on building a great team to put in front of New Zealanders and earn Party votes for ACT," he said.
"This announcement today does not affect the commitments made between National and ACT in our confidence and supply agreement."
Banks said the 2014 election would be close.
Boscawen said Banks had decided to spend "more time on his family and his private business interests" after 36 years of public service.
ACT would shortly open its nominations for candidates to stand for ACT at the election, Boscawen said.
"We have a number of very talented potential candidates and we expect to name our key candidates, including a new candidate for Epsom, by the time of our annual conference in early March," he said.
The Government's opponents said Banks' decision indicated the coalition was imploding.
“A fundamental player of the National Act Government is so discredited his own party has rejected him,” Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said.
“It’s impossible to see how this unstable Government can continue wobbling on through to the next election, without real harm being inflicted on the country," Norman said.
“John Key will try to paint this as business as usual, but the wheels have fallen off and he can’t keep driving the Government with just one right hand wheel."
National has already started courting the Conservative Party led by Colin Craig.
“If John Banks looks bad, look at Colin Craig: he doubts the moon landing happened, is a climate denier, opposes marriage equality, wants adults to have the right to hit kids, and, bizarrely, doesn’t like unisex toilets," Norman said.
Labour Leader David Cunliffe called on Prime Minister John Key to stand down Banks as an MP immediately.
“John Key is leading a lame duck Government propped up by the disgraced John Banks and the tarnished Peter Dunne. He is so desperate he is now reaching for support from Colin Craig, who may believe in chemtrails and questions whether man ever landed on the Moon," Cunliffe said.
“The Prime Minister has lost his moral compass. He is once again putting the numbers ahead of principle," Cunliffe said.
(Updated with political reaction, more Banks comments)