The striking similarities between the Peters and Key allegations, and the partisan politics surrounding them.
Consider this order of events:
An MP fails to declare his financial interests and, when asked about them, denies strongly and publicly accusations of any impropriety.
Despite fears that this MP could have been swayed by these financial interests, the MP says he has done nothing wrong and everything is above board.
Questions circulate as to the role of a related trust.
Some weeks later journalists reveal that the MP did not tell the public the full story, and that his financial interests were not what he first disclosed. There are accusations of lying and the MP accused claims to be the victim of a smear campaign.
When the above story-line was applied to Winston Peters, National damned the MP, even going so far as to rule out a coalition partnership with New Zealand First. National leader John Key said he could no longer have confidence in Peters’ word.
"In politics you have to do what’s right," Mr Key said in August.
Labour, in contrast, has insisted that in the interests of fair play and natural justice, Peters should not be condemned too quickly. Its MPs on the privileges committee voted against censuring him.
But now that the same story-line can be applied to John Key, following Fran Mold’s questions on TVNZ yesterday, the reactions have been very different. National doesn’t damn the MP, it wants us to elect him prime minister. Labour doesn’t insist the MP have time to explain himself. Michael Cullen immediately calls him a liar.
It’s hard to find a straight line of principle through this for anyone. But this revelation leaves National in all kinds of trouble given its vehement criticism of Peters. The stories are just too similar. The timeline shows that Key's family trust was trading in Tranz Rail shares - and profiting handsomely - at the same time as he was National’s associate transport spokesman and was meeting with Rail America, which at the time was bidding to buy Tranz Rail. They publicly announced their bid on May 14 2003, the day before Key's trust bought the extra 50,000 shares. (On this link, look at the PDFs of the buy/sell contracts).
As recently as July, Key said, “Can I assure her [Helen Clark] that neither I, nor my family trust, was an owner of shares in Tranz Rail at that time”. It turns out that until the middle of June 2003, he was.
Today he has said he didn’t learn about his family trust’s ownership of those shares until after July. He wasn’t lying, he just hadn’t been told. Again, it sounds remarkably similar to Peters’ line of defence. And as with Peters it’s fair to argue that the ‘no-one told me’ defence is simply not good enough. How do we know that Key wasn't advising his broker on what and when to sell and buy?
One difference in Key’s advantage is that this all happened in 2003, before the Register of Pecuniary Interests was introduced in 2005. So Key has not broken the rules of the House, as Peters did. Whether he’s broken his public reputation as a trustworthy bloke is another question altogether.