I have had misgivings for some time over the growing view that the solution to the Field issue is a parliamentary code of ethics. I seem to recall some quote along the lines of you only need a code of ethics when you don’t have any!
The NZ Herald editorial today makes some great points:
A code is being contemplated now only because the Government fears to act more strongly against one of its own, Taito Phillip Field. It is a lame attempt to suggest that the code Mr Field appears to have broken was unclear, when it was not. All MPs know, surely without having to be told, that they do not accept any form of private payment for their public work.
There are two sides to any written code of conduct. On the positive side, it clarifies certain principles that its adherents must observe; on the negative, it permits anything that is not expressly forbidden.
Parties that propose a formal code in these circumstances do Parliament the ultimate disservice. It leaves the impression that Mr Field’s dealings with prospective immigrants were not unusual and that other members need reminding that they must refuse personal favours. What else is the public to infer?
This is the key really. Field’s action were not in any grey area. This talk of a code gives cover to his appalling judgement, by suggesting his judgement was not lacking. The Prime Minister still refuses to let the truth be known about the extent of Field’s actions. Labour can agree to
refer the issue to the Privileges Committee for investigation, or the PM, with no doubt unanimous support from all party leaders, could establish a commission of inquiry with actual powers to investigate.