Unethical vs Illegal

August 31st, 2006 at 1:30 pm by David Farrar

Taito Phillip Field has claimed he has done nothing illegal, and with the Police now inquiring into this, he has been stood down.

But the issue has never been one of legality as much as ethics. The criminal code is the bare minimum standards for society. For MPs we expect behaviour well beyond that. Let me illustrate with some examples:

* A (for example) National MP could refuse to help any constituents who are not members of the National Party. This would be 100% legal, yet also deplorable and one would expect the party leadership to come down like a tonne of bricks on any MP who acted in such a way.

* Closer to home, there is nothing at all illegal about immigrants who gained residency through an MP, to choose to paint homes for him as a show of gratitude. It is grossly unethical for an MP to allow them to do that, but it is not illegal.

* An MP could refuse to speak to any rotary clubs unless they pay him or her $1,000 speakers fee. Quite legal but unethical.

* An MP can quite legally accept $100 donations for her political party, from constituents whom he is helping. Again grotesque but not illegal.

* An MP can seduce the 19 year old daughter of a constituent who comes to him to help, and then also sleep with the 17 year old teenage daughter and not break the law in any way, yet be regarded as acting unethically.

* An MP can lie to a QC, and not have broken the law, as the QC was not given the power to require testimony under oath.

* An MP can ring up constituents and pressure them to shut up, and this is not against the law.

* An MP can lie to his Ministerial colleagues in order to get immigration visas approved, yet this is not illegal – only grossly unethical.

The vast majority of what Field has been accused of is not illegal behaviour. While any potentially criminal behaviour such as forged birth certificates should be investigated by the Police, this in no way negates the necessity to have a proper investigation into the ethical behaviour.

And can do this at any time by either giving leave for the Privileges Committee to investigate, or setting up a proper Commission of Inquiry.

NB: Note that some of the examples above are just that – examples – and it is not suggested one MP has done all the above.

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