I spent some time
last night this morning reading the Ingram Report [PDF] into the allegations against Taito Phillip Field. The government is naturally focussing on the news that the original allegation - that Field had had a desperate Thai man do construction work on his house in Samoa in exchange for immigration assistance - turns out not to be supported by the evidence. Instead, Field had arranged to help the man by getting him out of the country so he could reapply legally for a permit, and he had then been employed without Field's initial knowledge by his family in Samoa. So, it really was all due to an abundance of kindness on Field's part. But even here, Field hardly comes out covered in glory; there were significant lapses of judgement in not stopping the work the moment he learned of it, and in not informing Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor (who Field had been lobbying on the man's behalf) of their new relationship. While not hanging offences, I think we should expect more responsible behaviour from Ministers, and this alone should mean that Field never again holds a Ministerial warrant.
More concerning are the other allegations, that Field had had large groups of Thai immigrants work on refurbishing his properties in return for immigration assistance. While the investigation was hampered by the refusal of many of those involved to speak with Ingram, he concludes that it may have occurred in the case of the house in Samoa, and definitely occurred in New Zealand. In at least two cases, a Thai man who had previously been assisted in gaining a work permit and permanent residency, appears to have painted houses for Field, and been significantly underpaid. The report speaks for itself here:
Despite the evidence to the contrary presented by Mr Field and others... I find a strong inference to be drawn that it was Mr Field who arranged, through the agency of Ms Thaivichit, for the painting exercise to be conducted by Mr Chaikhunpol. On the basis of [independent expert evidence], I find that Mr Chaikhunpol was significantly underpaid for the work. There is the further inference that it was out of a sense of gratitude or some sense of obligation in relation to the assistance which Mr Field had provided in Mr Chaikhunpol's immigration application that Mr Chaikhunpol undertook the painting of [address] in August 2005 at a price substantially below market rates.
The above is pretty much duplicated word for word in relation to a second property, and Field seems to have benefited from the arrangement to the tune of several thousand dollars. While a legal case might not be able to be made for corruption - it depends on whether assisting someone in their dealings with a government department is considered to be an act done in the capacity of a Member of Parliament - there is no question that we expect far higher standards of propriety than this. Ministers and MPs must not simply avoid such quid pro quos, they must avoid even the appearance of them. Field has failed that test, and on that basis alone should resign from Parliament. In the meantime, I would hope that the police will undertake a proper investigation and get to the bottom of this matter. Unfortunately, I expect that they will treat questions of official corruption with the same seriousness they treat questions of electoral overspending - namely, none at all.