By Political Editor Duncan Garner
Nick Smith has shown woeful judgement. And John Key - if he truly believes in accountability and high ethical standards - should sack him immediately.
Smith is lucky to still be a Minister but this saga isn't over yet. If he was ACC Minister still - he'd be gone.
He should never have written a reference letter for his friend Bronwyn Pullar - who was battling ACC while he was ACC Minister - on a ministerial letterhead.
It's poor judgement. He had a conflict of interest. He's broken the rules of the Cabinet manual. He should have known better.
Key must act.
If it was a Labour Party Minister who had done the same thing - Smith would be yelling for his or her resignation day in day out until he had his scalp. So would Key. They did so when former Minister David Benson-Pope showed woeful judgement and was forced to resign.
What's different now? Nothing.
Smith knows what he should be doing here - but he's clinging on.
Winston Peters alleged yesterday that there's more to this, hinting that the relationship with Bronwyn Pullar may go deeper than just knowing each other through the National Party.
Smith said "his private life is his private life". What does that mean? Was he in a relationship at some stage with her?
If he was then that surely makes this worse.
So this morning John Key should haul Smith into his office and ask him the following;
What was the nature of his relationship with Pullar?
Was it more than a friendship?
If the answer is yes - Smith must go on the spot.
If the answer is no, he must still go. Ministers should NEVER use their position to go into bat for their friends.
It is the first rule of being a Minister.
Smith knows the rules. He's been here for 20 years. He's not a junior Minister. We rarely use the word corruption in NZ. But in my opinion it's a corrupt practice to use your Ministerial powers and warrant to advance the interests of a friend.
That is what happened here - and Smith has no wriggle room.
Key should follow through on his promises from 2008. He promised higher ethical standards for Ministers. Now his position that "so much has changed in the economy since 2008" is no excuse to get out of this promise, surely.
Smith must go. His judgement does not meet the standard required to be a Minister. This will rumble on and Smith -and Key's Government - will stink more by the day if he's left to rot as a Minister.
Key should sack him. His second term Government has faced enough pressure already in 2012 without this messy scandal rolling on. Draw a line under Smith. Sack him. Promote a new face and get on with it Prime Minister.