Joe Hendren

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Field should resign now, if he ever wants to be a Minister again

While the wolves may seem to be surrounding Taito Phillip Field at the moment, I can't help thinking he is fortunate these allegations have emerged just after an election.

For Field's sake, the timing could not be better. Parliament is not sitting, and the Labour Party are yet to (publically) elect a cabinet.

If Field aims to have a long ministerial career, he should not wait around for the report of Queen's Counsel Noel Ingram. Instead, he should announce he will not put his name forward to Clark for election to the cabinet. Technically speaking this would not be a resignation, and this would allow Field to frame his departure from the cabinet on his own terms, instead of the terms of his opponents. Field could use the opportunity to strenuously deny the claims, while at the same time appear to be taking the gravity of the allegations seriously. A positive spin could be put on not being in cabinet by complaining that these allegations were preventing him from concentrating on the needs of his Mangere constituents. Clark would be saved the unwelcome task of sacking him, and this may be a favour Field can 'call in' at a later date, especially if Field is later found to be 'mostly innocent'.

Field is only a Minister outside cabinet anyway - this position should not be regarded as a huge loss for any politician who aims to enter the cabinet room proper. Unless of course Field already knows his chances of promotion were always slim in any case - and by attempting to hang on for dear life, this is exactly what he will demonstrate.

Even if Field is cleared of most of the substantive allegations, eventually, an extended performance of damaging political theatre would severely damage his prospects for promotion.

With the scope of the inquiry widened to take into account additional allegations, the inquiry is not expected to meet its Tuesday deadline, meaning that Field will have to sit through more mudslinging before the issue reaches any sort of conclusion.

In announcing he will not seek a cabinet nomination at this time, he would be following the lead of John Tamihere, who took a similar stance following the fallout after the infamous Wishart interview.

Taito Phillip Field should also be very thankful that Parliament is not sitting right now. Especially when the NZ Herald discovers Mrs Field did receive money from a staff member for helping out in the office, despite an earlier denial by Mr Field. If such contradictions had been uncovered through parliamentary questions, Field could have been accused of misleading Parliament, making matters far more serious, as 'misleading the house' is one of the few things an MP can be thrown out of Parliament for. By not returning to cabinet immediately, Field will avoid most direct Parliamentary scrutiny (although I do expect there will be a few questions directed at the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services).

While Taito Phillip Field may feel his primary motivation was to help others, there remains an 'appearance' he may have made a personal gain from buying the Cole's house below market value, kicking out the Cole's and selling the house for a tidy profit. There is also an 'appearance' he may have used his position as a member of cabinet to gain the ear of Immigration minister Damien O'Connor, at the same time the wannabe immigrants were tiling or painting houses owned by Mr Field.

Unfortunately for Mr Field, the Cabinet Manual is very clear on this point - appearances matter.
2.49 Ministers must ensure that no conflict exists or appears to exist between their public duty and their private interests. Conflicts of interest can arise because of the influence and power they wield - both in the individual performance of their portfolio responsibilities and as members of Cabinet. Ministers must conduct themselves at all times in the knowledge that their role is a public one; appearances and propriety can be as important as actual conflict of interest in establishing what is acceptable behaviour.
2.50 A conflict of interest may be pecuniary (that is, arising from the Minister's direct financial interests) or non-pecuniary (concerning, for example, a member of the Minister's family). It may be direct or indirect.

Taito Philip Field should 'step aside' now. This could well be the only way he can save his ministerial career in the longer term.

Update: NZ Herald coverage - linked here for future reference due to "Scrooge McHerald" attempting to charge for the use of its search engine.
Field facing new claim of aiding Thai overstayer
MPs wife says she accepted cash
The curse that haunts a charmed MP

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