Minister's job on the line over Thai man's visa

By Elizabeth Binning, Simon Collins

Taito Phillip Field's job as a Government minister is on the line after the Prime Minister ordered a review of his role in a work-permit application for a Thai overstayer who tiled his house in Samoa.

Helen Clark has asked senior colleagues to meet the Associate Justice Minister today and will then assess whether the case has compromised his position as a minister.

A spokesman said she was too busy with coalition negotiations after Saturday's inconclusive election to meet Mr Field herself, but she was "quite concerned that she gets to the bottom of the matter".

"Two or three senior ministers are going to sit down and have a chat with him," the spokesman said.

"She's going to await their report and she will be looking to see whether the position of the minister has been compromised in any way.

"She will make an assessment of the situation once the ministers have had that conversation."

He declined to name the senior ministers, but said they would report back "as soon as possible".

Labour MPs are due to hold a post-election caucus meeting at Premier House in Wellington at 10.30am today.

Counties-Manukau police spokeswoman Angeline Barlow confirmed yesterday that the police had received information about the Thai overstayer, Sunan Siriwan.

Mr Siriwan had been turned down for refugee status in New Zealand but had stayed in this country illegally.

Ms Barlow said police were still assessing information on the case and expected to pass it to the Immigration Service "in the next couple of days".

Mr Field asked Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor to direct the Immigration Service to grant the Thai a work permit if he left the country and applied for it from Samoa.

Mr O'Connor said last week that he had intervened to allow Mr Siriwan to reapply for a New Zealand work permit, but would be looking at the case again "given the new information that has come before me".

A spokeswoman said that Mr O'Connor returned to Wellington last night and the Siriwan case was one of the first things on his list.

"He will no doubt do it in the next day or two - probably tomorrow [today]."

Auckland builder Keith Williams, who went to Samoa with Mr Siriwan in March, said last week the 400sq m tiling job on Mr Field's new house in Samoa would have cost about $20,000 in the commercial market.

Mr Field said his family had paid Mr Siriwan up to 170 to 200 tala ($91 to $108) a week since March while he waited for his New Zealand permit to come through, but repeated yesterday that there was no "employment arrangement".

But Mr Field's wife, Maxine, confirmed last week that she applied for a Samoan work permit for Mr Siriwan. Officials granted it but wrote on it: "Conditional on continued employment with Field".

Mr Siriwan lived in a garage on the Fields' property while he worked on the house and is now staying with Mrs Field's son and daughter-in-law in Apia.

The Field family also paid about 5400 tala ($2900) to bring Mr Siriwan's partner, Luck, and their 2-year-old son from Thailand to join him in Samoa. Luck was deported to Thailand early this year after immigration officials found her during a raid on the house of another Thai family in Auckland.

Mr Field said yesterday he did not know about his wife's application for the Samoan work permit for Mr Siriwan.

"That is something Maxine did. It concerned her that if he was going to start looking for work there he would have to get a work permit," he said.

"That was arranged well after he was there and when Keith Williams had already left Samoa. I didn't even know about it till much later."

Mr Field said he would be taking legal advice.

"If anything [inaccurate] comes in the paper you can expect a defamation suit to be laid against the paper and you will probably be talking about millions," he said.

"I don't know why these people feel I'm their enemy. All I have done is try and help people."

Mr Field was voted back into his Mangere seat on Saturday with a majority of 13,860 - the country's biggest.

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