I am teaching my Year 9 students about government at the moment. Each unit is built around a wheel of key ideas with a question in the centre. The question in the centre of our unit this term is: “What is good government?”
It is our first attempt at using this wheel with this unit and it is going quite well. It’s main strength is that it allows us to compare systems quite easily, and to check systems against a wide range of points. When we did Nazi Germany it let us get beyond the horror of the Holocaust and see that Hitler twisted every wedge of this wheel. Indeed, all dictatorships do.
We are currently looking at the American system. Aside from the division of State and Federal law, one noticeable feature of the US system is the Constitution and the Supreme Court. Obviously we don’t have a Constitution in New Zealand, but it is easy to draw lessons from how the American Constitution has operated and been used in America to our society here in New Zealand.
This week I discovered Barbara Charline Jordan. In 1974 she made a fine, and insistently clear address to the House Judiciary Committee over the Articles of Impeachment as they considered what to do with Richard Nixon. Somehow her words seem highly appropriate at the current moment in our own country.
My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.
“Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?” “The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men.” And that’s what we’re talking about. In other words, the jurisdiction comes from the abuse or violation of some public trust.
We know the nature of impeachment. We’ve been talking about it awhile now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account.
If you like, let’s replace the words “the Constitution” above, with the word “Democracy”. Barbara Jordan goes on:
At this point, I would like to juxtapose a few of the impeachment criteria with some of the actions the President has engaged in. Impeachment criteria: James Madison, from the Virginia ratification convention. “If the President be connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached.”
People in a team reflect the captain:
The documents reveal it was the action of Mr Banks’ treasurer, in accidentally listing a $15,000 SkyCity donation as “anonymous”, that ultimately led to the police investigation.
And we should feel uncomfortable about donations from SkyCity when we read stories like this in April:
ACT leader John Banks appears to have had a change of heart when it comes to casinos, and it is a change that will bring a smile to John Key’s face.
The Government is looking to change the law around gambling to allow Sky City more pokie machines in exchange for a brand new convention centre in Auckland.
Its leader and only MP in parliament, John Banks, was showing his hand on the pokies for convention centre proposal.
“The best interests of the country are important,” he said. “In respect of an international casino for Auckland I am totally supportive.”
Sky City wants to expand but can’t unless the law is changed.
In the past, John Banks has opposed increasing gambling opportunities in New Zealand.
Barbara Jordan mentions another reason to impeach:
The Carolina ratification convention impeachment criteria: those are impeachable “who behave amiss or betray their public trust.” Beginning shortly after the Watergate break-in and continuing to the present time, the President has engaged in a series of public statements and actions designed to thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors. Moreover, the President has made public announcements and assertions bearing on the Watergate case, which the evidence will show he knew to be false. These assertions, false assertions, impeachable, those who misbehave. Those who “behave amiss or betray the public trust.”
“Behave amiss or betray the public trust”. In April, on Q+A, John Banks refused to directly answer Paul Holmes’ direct question asking if he received money from Dotcom and had asked Dotcom to split the donation and make it anonymous. He said that Mr Holmes must think he had come up the river in “a cabbage boat”, and said he had nothing to hide. Mr. Banks’ other tactic has been to refuse to be accountable to the people through a free press. Even now he refuses to disclose his police statements to the public. A number of witnesses have described situations in which Mr Banks did precisely what Dotcom said he did, and indicate that he may have used connections with Dotcom to get preferential treatment at a hotel, and refused Dotcom assistance in getting a doctor while in custody not because it would be morally wrong to do so, but because “it would look bad” in light of the donations.
Has the President committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That’s the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.
Mr Banks appears to be connected in a suspicious manner with a number of people, and to have behaved amiss and betrayed the public trust. We do not live in America, but I believe that these statements on impeachment reflect the mood of the citizens of any democracy towards their representatives, and I therefore feel that they are not specific to the USA, but apply here in spirit also.
We should all be demanding that Mr Banks be removed from his post because reason tells us it is correct. Not removing him is bad for good government in New Zealand.
Update: A summary of Mr Banks’ path