10 things you might have forgotten from John Banks’s back catalogue

With everything in politics moving so fast these days, it can be hard to remember characters from earlier seasons who get brought back for yet another run. So with John Banks considering another Auckland mayoralty run, what are some things you might have forgotten? 

Once upon a time, he was utterly ubiquitous. John Banks was on the cover of magazines, pounded out his message on the airwaves and seemingly got himself elected to whatever office he took a fancy to.

His latest foray into politics ended in scandal and disaster, and that is largely what has kept his name in the press since, too. But now John Banks is considering another tilt at the Auckland mayoralty, showing he’s not quite finished yet.

So, with so long between the start of his career and the present moment, what might have got lost in the mists of time? Here’s ten things you might have forgotten.

1. Almost really before he was ‘John Banks’ the character, as we know him now, he was an extremely long-serving MP in the Whangarei electorate. After four terms, he became minister of police, and later said that he deeply regretted not getting gun law changes through after the 1991 Aramoana massacre.

2. While running for mayor of the Super City, he uttered this immortal clanger on The Nation: “If we continue the bankrupt response of just paying young Polynesian, young Māori men in South Auckland, the dole to sit in front of TV, smoke marijuana, watch pornography and plan more drug offending and more burglaries, then we’re going to have them coming through our window regardless if we live in Epsom or anywhere else in the greater Auckland.” Yep, those actual words came out of the mouth of a politician, while on television.

3. He had some truly extraordinary memory lapses around donations made during his last mayoral campaign. Now, it has been back and forth before the courts, so we have to be careful about the wording of this, but suffice to say he had to resign from John Key’s ministry because of allegations of electoral fraud involving Kim Dotcom.

4. He was part of a bizarre and self-defeating takeover of the ACT party, when in 2011 he stood alongside Don Brash’s coup against Rodney Hide. As part of the plan, Banks then stood in Hide’s now vacant Epsom seat, which he won. Hilariously though, the ACT party vote collapsed, and avowed social conservative John Banks was left as the sole MP of the relatively liberal ACT party.

5. He once shared one of the most consequential cups of tea in New Zealand electoral history, with former PM John Key. It was meant to just be a nudge and wink to National voters in Epsom to cast their electorate vote for Banks, in a public place, with media meant to simply act as stenographers and relay that message to the voters. It backfired spectacularly, because a tape recording of their conversation was made, and Winston Peters made enough hay out of it to get his NZ First party back into parliament.

John Key and John Banks at the Urban Cafe. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

6. He shared mutual respect and friendship with perennial activist and shit-stirrer Penny Bright, despite the two being utterly implacable political foes. When Bright was on her deathbed last year, Banks was one of the people she asked to visit her. He did so, and described her as a sister, and a kindred spirit.

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7. Banks has been part of a long and often not great tradition of politicians bouncing between elected office, and being talkback radio hosts. He inherited former PM Sir Robert Muldoon’s slot on Radio Pacific in the early 90s, and held onto it for about 15 years. While he was at the station, press releases insisted on calling him ‘Banksie’.

8. Some guy once threw a bucket of mud at him outside court. Incredibly, and despite the incident happening in 2014, it was apparently because of something he said as a talkback host back in 1997.

9. He grew up in dire poverty, and credits the experience for some of the views he holds today. Banks credits the “world class education” he got as the turning point of his life, and combined with a loving home environment (which he says he didn’t have) he says that is the best way out of poverty.

10. He had a son whom he refused to recognise as such, and the High Court had to rule that he was, in fact, the birth father. In an extraordinarily messy court case, it was also alleged by the mother that Banks had supplied and urged her to take abortion drugs, which she refused. Incidentally, and allowing for personal views to change, he was vehemently anti-abortion during his stint as a talkback host in the 90s.


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