Joe Hendren

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

David Parker and should our politicians be full of convictions?

The resignation of David Parker from all portfolios demonstrates once again how overreaction can often be the best strategy under fire. Political damage is limited as your opponents have nothing to do by agree with your decision.

Don Brash was left trying to make tenuous comparisons with the behaviour of other Ministers - this was only because he was left with little to say about David Parker.

I see political journalists Colin Espiner and John Armstrong both reach the same conclusion. Parker is the fall guy for the mistakes of David Benson Pope. If David Benson Pope had not spent the last few months claiming the tennis ball was out when it was pretty obviously in (would misleading the line umpire would be the appropriate analogy?) perhaps the pressure on David Parker would not have been so urgent. It is a shame Parker is the more able player.

Yet, because of this pressure, Parker will gain greater brownie points among this colleagues for his drastic and quick action. He has done Helen Clark a large favour, and so long as the companies office do not go after him in a big way, he should be back in cabinet within a year or two.

Under the Electoral Act an MP can lose his seat in Parliament if he or she is convicted of a crime punishable by more than two years of imprisonment - this is based on the charge the MP faces, not the actual sentence handed down by a judge. This creates another problem for Parker as filing a false company return, as Parker has done, carries a maximum term of 5 years imprisonment. There is a possibility, abet a remote one, that Parker could be forced out of Parliament.

It may be telling that the Acting Registrar of Companies, Adam Feeley compared Parker's breach of the Companies Act with a traffic infringement.

Even if the Companies Office decides to proceed with a prosecution this does not mean that Parker will necessarily be convicted by a judge. A reasonable case could be made that the consequences of conviction, Parker losing his seat, would outweigh the gravity of the offence. It could be argued that the most serious aspect is that Parker repeated his "mistake" in more than one year, including in a 2005 return while he was a cabinet minister. Assuming Parker has an otherwise unblemished record, I say spare the criminal conviction and give Parker a significant fine.

Recently Don Brash went as far as to accuse the police of 'bias' for not charging Labour over campaign overspending. Of course it was convienent for Brash to forget about the decision of authorities not to take action against National for overspending on election broadcasting, that oh so convienent "mistake" over GST.

Discussing the possibility whether the Companies Office would be taking action, Adam Feeley said, "No regard is had as to who the person is, but rather what the facts of the matter are and what the merits of bringing a prosecution are."

Exactly. Perhaps Mr Feely's words should also be applied to some other recent high profile cases involving politicians accused of potentially illegal acts. It would be an irony if all the shouting from the opposition resulted in a prima facie case of wasting police time. It is the job of the police and other judicial authorities to make the decision whether a "crime" warrants a conviction - and in this MPs should be treated no differently from ordinary members of the public.

PS: I wrote most of this a couple of days ago, but my computer seemed to get a bad habit of attempting to hibernate every time I tried to post it. Gah!

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