WikiLeaks cable: Report on Labour MP scandal sets off maelstrom

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

August 1, 2006
Report on Labour MP scandal sets off maelstrom


date:2006-08-01T19:16:00
source:Embassy Wellington
origin:06WELLINGTON598
destination:VZCZCXYZ0000 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHWL #0598/01 2131916 ZNY
CCCCC ZZH R 011916Z AUG 06 FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON TO RUEHC/SECSTATE
WASHDC 3106 INFO RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI RHHJJAA/JICPAC
HONOLULU HI RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY
COUNCIL WASHDC
classification:CONFIDENTIAL
reference:06WELLINGTON195|06WELLINGTON220|06WELLINGTON577
?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000598

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR D (FRITZ), EAP/FO, AND EAP/ANP
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA
SECDEF FOR OSD/...
?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000598

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR D (FRITZ), EAP/FO, AND EAP/ANP
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA
SECDEF FOR OSD/ISD LIZ PHU
PACOM FOR J01E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2016
TAGS: PGOV, NZ
SUBJECT: REPORT ON LABOUR MP SCANDAL SETS OFF MAELSTROM

REF: WELLINGTON 195, WELLINGTON 220, WELLINGTON 577

Classified by: Acting DCM Katherine Hadda,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary
-------

1. (C) A report on a scandal involving Labour MP Taito Philip Field
threatens to become another thorn in the Government's side. The
report cleared Field of the main allegation but raised serious
questions about his behavior as a MP. The opposition National Party
claims that this and other questionable activities by Labour MPs
prove that the Labour administration is corrupt. With efforts to
raise another inquiry thwarted, the Nats are proposing a rare motion
of no-confidence on the Speaker of the House. While Labour is
sloughing off National's campaign as a cynical means of securing
votes, even some Labour MPs believe Prime Minister Helen Clark is
reluctant to censure Field more severely because she needs to secure
his vote in the party's finely balanced parliamentary majority. The
PM's position is unlikely to cost her political support, however.
Field is a Pacific Islander who is very popular in his own
constituency, and he has been cleared of illegal activities. End
Summary

One more Labour MP scandal
--------------------------

2. (SBU) Taito Phillip Field is the latest addition to a lengthening
list of Labour MPs accused of inappropriate behavior (Refs A and B).
Field, a 12-year MP of Samoan descent, is accused of using cheap
labor on his house in Samoa in exchange for helping a Thai couple
with immigration to New Zealand. In early 2005, Field, then the
Associate Minister of Justice, asked the then Associate Immigration
Minister Damien O'Connor to direct the Immigration Service to grant
the couple a New Zealand work permit if they left the country and
applied for it from Samoa. Field did not inform O'Connor that the
couple not only lived in Field's house in Samoa but also worked on it
at wage that was well below accepted rates. In September 21, 2005,
Auckland lawyer Noel Ingram was appointed by the Government to
investigate the immigration allegations leveled at Field.

The investigation findings satisfy no one
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) On July 18, 2006, the long-awaited 156 page Ingram Report
was released. It cleared of Field of the main allegation of conflict
of interest as a Minister. Ingram found no evidence Field told the
couple he could influence the final decision regarding their visa
application, and no evidence they were influenced by the fact Field
was a Minister.
4. (SBU) The report, however, raised concerns about Field's judgment
and behavior as a MP, and outlined a litany of questionable practices
he committed. These included grossly underpaying the couple (who
appeared to be working out of gratitude or sense of obligation) and
pressuring witnesses not to talk with the media. The report also
revealed that the New Zealand Immigration Service was keeping tabs on
Field.
Labour supports Field - out of duty or expedience?
--------------------------------------------- -----
5. (SBU) Field's Labour colleagues continue to dutifully back Field
in public. Yet, one Labour MP revealed to Post that he and his caucus
colleagues are appalled at Field's actions. Field claims he has been
vindicated by the report and says when the time is right, he will put
his name forward to return to Cabinet (he was stood down from his
ministerial posts in 2005 in response to the allegations). However,
Prime Minister Helen Clark is reluctant to bring Field back into the
fold, at least in the short term. She has said that he "has a lot of
work ahead of him before" she grants his wish.
National smells an opportunity
------------------------------
6. (SBU) The National Party says the report is nothing more than a
cover-up. National's Immigration spokesman, Lockwood Smith, says the
report is not conclusive, in part because key witnesses refused to
participate (Ingram was not given the power to compel witnesses to
give evidence). National say this latest scandal involving a Labour
MP is evidence that the Labour administration is corrupt (a term used
very infrequently in New Zealand politics).
7. (SBU) National's initial response was similar to those after
previous Labour MP indiscretions. It sought to connect Clark directly
with the scandals in an effort to stain her by association. This,
National hopes, will undercut her authority and shrink her high
personal polling. However, to date there is little evidence to show

that this tactic is working. Clark's personal poll ratings have in
fact climbed in recent months, whereas National leader Don Brash's
has slid (Ref C). National also called for a full commission of
inquiry without success.
8. (SBU) National then asked that the Speaker of the House, Margaret
Wilson, to refer Field to Parliament's powerful Privileges Committee,
which has the powers of a court. Wilson rejected National's request.
She argued that the report's findings fall outside the Parliamentary
contempt provisions, even the one that deals with behavior reflecting
bad behavior on the institution of Parliament.

9. (SBU) Technically, Wilson is correct. Yet, National and many
analysts have criticized Wilson's narrow interpretation of the rules
as doing a grave disservice to the integrity of the institution of
parliament and the reputation on those who serve in it (Ironically,
previous calls for a MP code of conduct beyond the bounds of
parliament have received only lip service support by MPs).

Outcome is a rare no-confidence motion on the Speaker
--------------------------------------------- --------

10. (SBU) Angered by Wilson's ruling, National lodged a motion
seeking a near unprecedented vote of no-confidence in her as Speaker.
The motion was easily blocked by Labour, which only needed one vote
to do so. A successful vote would have been removed Wilson from the
Speaker's chair but would not have affected the balance of the House
as Wilson would simply return to being a normal MP. The gesture,
however, would have been highly embarrassing for Labour.
11. (SBU) Although a vote was not allowed to take place, a Labour MP
close to Clark has told Post that the Government took this motion of
no-confidence extremely seriously and will allocate Government time
in Parliament for a debate on it. The MP nevertheless says the
Government regards the motion as a "desperate act" by National to
keep in the issue in the public spotlight. He asserts that National's
move "cheapens the no-confidence convention".
National still determined to pursue Field
-----------------------------------------
12. (SBU) With other tactics having failed, National is now seeking
to get a special select committee to hold an inquiry into Field's
dealings. However, their effort is likely to be thwarted by
parliamentary rules that prevent a committee other than the
privileges committee from inquiring into the private conduct of a MP
except with leave from the House, which in this case is unlikely to
be granted. National is running out of procedural options. In what is
likely to a final throw of the dice, it may seek a general inquiry
about an aspect of the case, such as immigration visas, and make
frequent inferences to Field. This would ensure that the case remains
in the public eye.

Comment
--------

13. (C) It's in National's self interest -- in the face of slumping
poll ratings -- for keeping this case alive. This issue is, however,
unlikely to increase the opposition's standing in the polls. But
even if voter support for Labour has remained the same, many Kiwis
seem to sympathize with National's claim that Clark will do anything
to protect her slim parliamentary majority. Some contrast Field's
treatment with that of MPs who mis-stepped earlier in Clark's tenure
and who were virtually all forced to resign. It seems plausible that
Field would not have escaped greater censure by the Labour caucus or
wider party if the Government had a bigger majority in Parliament.
But given the finely balanced nature of her current parliamentary
majority, Clark needs Field's vote. End Comment.

McCormick

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