When Taito Phillip Field entered parliament it was heralded as a maturing of our society.
He was the first MP of Pacific Island descent to enter parliament when he was elected as Labour MP for Otara in 1993. It was widely celebrated through the Pacific Island community. Three years later he took over the Mangere electorate seat vacated by former Prime Minister Dave Lange.
Again this was celebrated. A middle-class European lawyer was replaced by a Pacific Islander to represent an electorate which was predominately brown and mostly Pacific.
Mangere is the lowest income electorate in the country. Amid our 60 electorates it ranks number one on the deprivation index. Incomes are low, poverty is rife, stresses on families and kids are huge.
However it seemed a perfect match at the time, made in heaven even. Many Pacific people emigrated here in the 1960’s and 1970’s to seek a better life and who better to help deliver this than a Pacific representative himself.
Field has been in the spotlight for several months now over allegations he personally benefited from the use of his position as a Minister to advocate for work permits on behalf of Thai workers. Field had houses painted and tiled by these workers but they were paid only about one-third of what would have been a reasonable rate. It looks suspicious at best.
The independent investigation by Noel Ingram QC found no evidence of misuse of his ministerial position to advocate on immigration issues but the report left a dark cloud of suspicion over the MP because witnesses did not have to speak to the inquiry (and many didn’t) and the inquiry outcome was at best inconclusive.
The problem lies with the government putting in place a toothless inquiry as a way to stonewall and protect their man when allegations began to swirl around the MP. Labour needs Field’s vote to preserve its parliamentary majority and doesn’t want to risk a defection or a by-election. In that scenario Field could well become an independent MP with a grudge against the government.
However, 13 years after entering parliament it’s worth looking at what Field has delivered for Pacific people and his electorate. It’s not a pretty picture. Having arrived to parliament with so much hope attached, Field has been a failure.
He can’t be blamed for Pacific Island people in our low income communities going backwards under National rule in the 1990’s but he must share a good proportion of the blame for them continuing to go backwards under Labour’s leadership over the past 7 years.
The Ministry of Social Development report released a fortnight ago showed that Pacific Island families suffering severe hardship increased from 16 percent in 2000 to a staggering 30 percent in 2004.
This simple statistic outlines a massive injustice. Wealth has been leaving Pacific families in Mangere and our other low income communities at an even greater rate under Labour than under National.
Where has this money gone? The answer came a few days after the Ministry report when the annual rich-list was published. It’s a titillating read for some to see who’s raced ahead and who’s fallen behind in the financial celebrity stakes. The business community calls it the politics of envy but really it’s the politics of greed. But the most important statistic from the release this year is that the 187 richest New Zealanders together increased their wealth by no less than $3.7 billion over the previous year. It is hard to comprehend the massive scale of this shift in wealth but the evidence of its impact is clear. Whole communities of New Zealanders have slipped deeper into poverty and none more so that Mangere.
In all of the media fuss over Taito Phillip Field it seems that no-one has asked him the most important questions. Why has he remained silent over deepening poverty in his electorate? Why has he not spoken out in parliament or on the Social Services Select Committee? Or what about the plight of Housing New Zealand tenants where the proportion of people suffering severe hardship has more than doubled in the first 4 years of his government (from 19% to 41%)? What about his constituents Chris and Cru Kahui? What does he think of the fact that the proportion of children living in families under severe or significant hardship increased from 18% in 2000 to 26% in 2004?
Just how much more do people in his electorate have to suffer before he takes some responsibility or some action?
Field may have successfully elevated himself to millionaire status but by any measure he has failed spectacularly to represent the people of his electorate. If he had any integrity at all he would resign.