Field’s guilt and Labour’s shame

In a shameful first, a (former) New Zealand Member of Parliament has been found guilty of corruption in relation to his duties as an MP. He championed the cause of poor people, while illegally exploiting them.

But the same is not just with Taito Philip Field, but with the Labour Party. Because they defended him time and time again. I draw a contrast between how Labour responded to corruption allegations against Field, and ACT against Donna Awatere-Huata (and hers were allegations that were not even about her role as a MP).

ACT demanded Donna explain herself, and when she could not they suspended her from Caucus, and then used the Electoral Integrity Act to have her thrown out of Parliament. They even went all the way to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, to to defend their actions in getting her thrown out of Parliament they were so appalled and disgusted by her behaviour.

And now let us contrast that with Labour’s shameful response. I’ll give Labour the benefit of the doubt and assume no Labour MP was aware of what had been happening until One News broke the story on 12 September 2005. In reality I think it is highly probable Associate Immigration Minister Damien O’Connor did know. The NZ Immigration Service overseas offices sent warning notes to him. The claim his staff never showed them to him is probably a convenient fiction. I have worked in Ministerial offices and know what sort of stuff would never ever be kept from the Minister, and official warnings about a Ministerial colleague is not one of them. But this can not be proven, so let us deal just with what we do know for sure:

  1. 12 Sep 05 – One News airs allegations
  2. 13 Sep 05 – PM Helen Clark says “the only thing of which Taito Philip Field is guilty is being helpful“. Yes the PM immediately went into bat for him despite the damning allegations. Her first response was to defend what he had done, not establish the truth.
  3. 14 Sep 05 – Field tells NZPA there was no corruption on his part and no investigation was needed as he had been open with the facts. The PM refuses to order an inquiry due to the looming election, in case it affected the vote in South Auckland. Note that Jenny Shipley in 1999 sacked a Minister two days before the election, after a conflict of interest in relation to immigration issues was raised publicly. Shipley did not hold off doing the right thing just because of an election.
  4. 20 Sep 05 – Clark agrees to an inquiry into the allegations. However the terms of reference are set incredibly narrow – only if Field had a conflict of interest as a Minister. As Field did not hold portfolio responsibilities for immigration, it was always a foregone conclusion he could not be found to have a conflict of interest as a Minister.
  5. 21 Sep 05 – evidence emerges that Field’s wife was being paid from his parliamentary budget, despite this being a breach of the rules.
  6. 21 Sep 05 – Noel Ingram appointed to do the inquiry with a report back date of 4 October 2005. Clark wanted this out of the way quickly and had set terms of reference that made the outcome inevitable. She also gave the inquiry no powers to compel testimony.
  7. 18 Jul 06 – on the eve of the release of the Ingram report, Clark is asked if Field will be staying on as an MP, and she says “I am sure he will”. So even after having read the Ingram report, she saw nothing of concern excepts for some minor “errors of judgement”.
  8. 18 Jul 06 – the Ingram report is released. Ingram details a huge number of abuses and exploitation by Field. He also makes it very clear that he doubts some of what Field told him and that some of the testimony was manufactured. The report of course inevitably says there was no conflict with Field’s ministerial duties – no surprise as he had no portfolio involvement with immigration.
  9. 18 Jul 06 – Clark says Field is not barred from returning to a Ministerial role one day.
  10. 18 Jul 06 – in an estimates debate, Labour MP Russel Fairbrother says “There is no evidence to doubt what Mr Field says. The overall conclusion is that we have a member of Parliament who works very hard and very diligently, and who cooperated fully with the inquiry”. Fairbrother continues his defence of the diligent Field by saying “So what we have is simply a thorough report, by a very experienced Queen’s Counsel, that upholds the integrity of Taito Phillip Field. Taito Phillip Field is a hard-working member.” And even better he concludes “This is a report that Mr Field can wave around as a tribute to his integrity, and it suggests he will continue to be a profitable and good member of the House”. That is what tht Labour MP said at the time.
  11. 18 July 06 – then we had the Deputy Prime Minister in the same debate. Dr Cullen said “Phillip Field handles more immigration cases than probably the whole of the National caucus put together. Why? Because he works hard—unlike that lazy, shallow member [John Key] —on behalf of his constituents.” Dr Cullen holds Field up as an example that all MPs should aspire to.
  12. 18 Jul 06 – we then hear again from Dr Cullen during a snap debate: “the fundamental fault Mr Field committed was to work too hard on behalf of the many, many hundreds of people who come to his electorate office on immigration matters.” Yes Dr Cullen, despite having read the damning Ingram report, touts Field as a wonderful MP whose only problem was he cared too much for his constituents. The same ones he has been found guilty of bribery charges about. Finally Cullen concludes “He works harder on those matters than I suspect the entire National Party caucus does on constituency cases. If that is what he is guilty of, then I am sure he is happy to plead guilty to working hard on behalf of his constituents.
  13. 19 Jul 06 – Clark rules out a further inquiry into Field as “unnecessary”
  14. 21 Jul 06 – Margaret Wilson refuses to refer report to the Privileges Committee despite the massive amount of issues in the report that could be a matter of privilege.
  15. 24 Jul 06 – Helen Clark said “The Government has not been embarrassed by the Taito Phillip Field controversy”. It is true they were not embarrassed, but they should have been. They should have hung their heads in shame they defended Field for so long
  16. 25 Jul 06 – the Government says there is no need to have the Labour Department investigate Field as his helpers were contractors, not employees, and hence minimum wage laws did not apply. Yes Labour Ministers defended Field exploiting immigrants and paying below the minimum wage, on the basis they were contractors. Does this give you some idea of how sincere they are on such issues?
  17. 27 Aug 06 – Sunday airs more allegations against Field
  18. 31 Aug 06. Police announce they are investigating, And Field stood down from Caucus. He is later expelled from Labour – not for any of the multiple abuses detailed in the Ingram Report, but for the cardinal sin of not ruling out standing for another party at the election.

Even if Field’s actions has not been found to be illegal, I blogged on 31 August the huge difference between mere legality and ethically. Long before the Police investigation, the Labour Party should have denounced Field. Instead Clark, Cullen and the rest of the Labour Party defended him. That is why these convictions are their shame.

This would also be a good time for all MPs to come together and declare this should never happen again, and support an Independent Commission against Corruption that can investigate abuses of office by parliamentarians, senior officials and agencies.

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