So, the judge has decided that John Banks is guilty. Despite the police who didn’t want to know, and our dear leader the Prime Minister adopting the same “don’t ask don’t tell” approach that Mr Banks was seemingly relying on to keep him on the right side of the law. A moral victory though it seems he may escape actual conviction because the punishment might be too harsh.
I happen to have been reading a book called “The Plantagenets” by Dan Jones (Williams Collins, 2013). A weighty tome, it shows how deranged our European cultural ancestors were a mere 800 years ago. The punishment metered out to the Earl of Arundel in 1397 is illuminating: “His head came off with one stroke of the sword, and the torso stood on it’s own for as long as it took to recite the Lords Prayer.” Harsh indeed. We can all be glad those days are over. For our Mr Banks, the punishment doesn’t really matter too much; we all knew he was lying through his back teeth. It may well be enough that he is simply guilty.
I find it odd that a part of the defense case was a roll-call of the rich and famous to give testimony to his good character. One would hope that even the most desperate of criminals has a few mates that will say he is a good guy. I don’t quite see the connection to proving guilt or innocence on a particular point. Are there people that we ought to deem above judgement simply because they are famous/rich/sporting/good guys and can therefore do no wrong? Think Lance Armstrong before you answer. He cultivated his reputation as a good guy. I liked his book. But in fact he was a dirty little cheating bully. Pistorius – what about him? Plenty of friends to testify he is an honorable person. But seriously – four shots through a door before you realise it is your girlfriend you are shooting at? No.
I have seen John Banks in action, when he was the mayor of Auckland. It was an eye-opening introduction to local body politics, which appeared to be anything but democracy in action and a lot like school-yard bully-boy tactics. I was therefore glad to see Banks kicked out at the next election, (not to be mistaken as a vote of confidence in the alternative candidates); mortified to see him resurrected over the teacups.
Dan Jones quotes a contemporary of Richard II, by 1399 incarcerated in the Tower of London, “The sight of a king and a man brought so low left a deep impression – I departed much moved at heart, reflecting to myself on the glories of his former state and on the fickle fortunes of the world.” It is a shame to exit public life shamefully. I am sure John Banks must have done something good in his various incarnations of public service.
Last weekend, Queens Birthday Weekend, was the first of the seasonal planting days at Tawharanui. A gathering of environmentally-inclined people planted, in two days, 10,000 plants. Plants germinated and grown on the park, by volunteers who tend them throughout the year and then lug them up steep hillsides ready for planting. The average age of the nursery crew must be in the upper 60’s at least.
I planted both Saturday and Sunday, and was completely exhausted by Sunday night. I think I probably got between 100 – 120 plants in the ground. Feeble. Many hands do truly make light work though. The student volunteers from Auckland University were a very welcome sight when they arrived; the hillside where I was planting was far too much for me alone. The gang that turned up by me were all Chinese. They laughed and joked as they worked, speaking English most of the time, and using their English names. I thought at the time that their kiwi babies will come and see the trees planted by their parents when they were ‘new NZ’ers’. I told them how pleased I was to see them. I told them my son was a student but shamefully was not there helping. Neither him nor any of his kiwi mates.
It is hard work, planting trees on a hill, but the rewards are worth it. Making habitat for the birds, getting out in the sunshine doing physical work, chatting to strangers. One planting I remember a very obscure conversation about the potential benefits of providing prostitutes to prisoners. Yes, there is no limit to the deep thought that goes on while digging holes. Public service, at a most basic of levels. No money changes hands, there are no secrets. Just getting stuck in together, and looking back at the end of the day and seeing a new forest.
So, Mr Banks, perhaps instead of paying some paltry fine (assuming a jail term is out of the question, even though that option is available, and beheading fell out of favour a few centuries ago) should you actually be convicted, I invite you to grab a spade and do some planting, first Sunday of July and August. Give you some time to think, “reflect on the former glories of your state”, as it were. Or memory loss, quid quo pro, utu if you will, or any other philosophical point.
You will be in the company of the other type of public servant. Part of the army of Mums and Dads and kids working for their communities without getting or seeking any recognition save knowing they are doing a good thing; knowing that they can still tell the difference between a good and a bad thing.
At Tawharanui a spade is a spade, and we don’t judge whoever is holding the handle.