Field exonerated, but questions remain

By Paula Oliver

Prime Minister Helen Clark is resisting calls for a more powerful inquiry into the actions of Labour MP Taito Phillip Field, despite admitting he made "errors of judgment" in his role as an MP.

In the long-awaited report about allegations of corruption against Mr Field, Auckland QC Noel Ingram yesterday cleared the Mangere MP of conflicts between his private interests and his influence as a minister.

But Dr Ingram's report - which took 10 months instead of the originally planned nine working days, and cost almost $500,000 - also raised serious questions about the appropriateness of Mr Field's conduct as an MP.

Among them, a Thai man was found to have been significantly underpaid for work on New Zealand properties owned by the MP, and there was an inference the work was done "out of gratitude or some sense of obligation" for immigration assistance from Mr Field.

Dr Ingram also raised concerns about some of Mr Field's versions of events and memory lapses, and suggested some of the evidence of other witnesses was "rehearsed". He made it clear his inquiry was hampered by his inability to require people to give evidence. A significant number of witnesses refused to be interviewed.

Dr Ingram was unable to resolve several key questions and said if they were to be resolved, it "would be necessary for an authority with appropriate powers of investigation to inquire further".

The corruption inquiry was called last year after reports that Mr Field asked Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor to grant a work permit to a Thai overstayer who had tiled his house in Samoa.

Mr O'Connor eventually did step in and grant a work visa to the Thai man, who had previously been refused refugee status - a factor which the Immigration Service said would typically signal the failure of a work permit application.

Mr Field, who was not reappointed to his ministerial roles after the last election as the allegations swirled, yesterday claimed the report "exonerated" him.

Helen Clark noted Dr Ingram's report did not find a conflict of interest, but did "imply errors of judgment" with respect to Mr Field's MP role.

National MPs are intent on forcing further scrutiny of Mr Field, and yesterday tried to send the report to Parliament's powerful Privileges Committee for consideration.

That was blocked by Labour MPs, but another attempt will be made through a letter to the Speaker.

National leader Don Brash also called on Helen Clark to order a commission of inquiry into the behaviour of Mr Field, given the "glaring omissions" of Dr Ingram's report.

"How much credibility can the public of New Zealand attach to an inquiry where key witnesses were never interviewed?"

But the Prime Minister said she had not given any consideration to such an inquiry. Mr Field did concede that he was "human" and "capable of making mistakes". He told Parliament he had a genuine intention to help people.

Meanwhile, Maori Party Co-Leader Tariana Turia said her party was delighted Mr Field had been cleared and that justice has been done.

She said he had the courage to admit he made mistakes and promised to review his practices in his electorate.

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