This week’s NBR online column

Most of my online columns I can do in a couple of hours. This one is a lot longer than normal and has taken half a day or so. Even got up at 3 am to finish it!

It is on the sentencing of Phillip Hans Field, and has (if I can say so myself) a nice mixture of research (including how the British House of Commons in 1695 first made bribing an MP an offence), explaining why the sentence is longer than many people expected and then diving into the politics and comparing how dealt with Field and ACT dealt with Donna Awatere-Huata.

The column is here. Some extracts:

Field was convicted of 11 charges under s103(1) of the Crimes Act 1961, being “ and bribery of member of Parliament”. This has been an offence under New Zealand law since at least 1908. Its history though in fact goes back to 1695 in the United Kingdom, when the House of Commons resolved that offering a bribe to a Member of Parliament shall be a high crime and misdemeanour which subverts the English constitution, and that an MP accepting such a bribe shall be a matter of privilege.

In New Zealand, both offering and accepting such bribes are deemed serious crimes with a maximum sentence of seven years jail. …

As Field’s offending was unique in New Zealand’s parliamentary history, the Judge had no direct precedent to guide him in sentencing. The closest cases he could find was a Customs officer who took bribes and got four years jail. However he, unlike Field, pled guilty and co-operated fully. Without that he would have got six years.

An overseas precedent was a Canadian MP who got five years jail for a one off 10 years $10,000 bribe. Closer to home a New South Wales Minister got ten years for taking bribes to let prisoners out early.

You can read the sentencing notes here.

And then I look at how ACT handled things, compared to Labour:

Some time ago I phoned up then ACT Leader Richard Prebble and asked him if he could detail to me everything they did to force Awatere-Huata out. I explained I wanted to contrast their resolve to condemn such corruption, with Labour’s defence of Field.

I was staggered when Richard said he did not want to be held up as a role model. He explained that he actually felt guilty that they didn’t do more. Perhaps they should have asked questions earlier he said, as there was the odd rumour about her.

I leave readers with that comparison. One party that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force a corrupt MP out of Parliament, and then still felt guilty that they didn’t do more.

And another party that received a 158 page report detailing the numerous abuses and lies of one of their own MPs, and resolved to defend him. Desperate not to upset a core constituency their leader said one day he could be a Minister again. Their deputy leader said his only crime was to work too hard. They posed with him for the TV cameras as he claimed to be exonerated. And then two years later after he is sentenced to six years jail, the new leader and deputy leader still refuse to condemn him. They refuse to say whether or not they think he did in fact break the law. They refuse to express any remorse, shame or disgust over not just his behaviour, but their party’s behaviour in defending him.

Can Labour ever be deemed fit to hold office again until they do so?

Your views and answers can be left at NBR.

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