Minister's credulity and incompetence

Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway (left) and Karel Sroubek.Photo: NZME
Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway (left) and Karel Sroubek.Photo: NZME
Australia is one extreme. It deports people with a New Zealand connection on grounds as flimsy as associating with those considered undesirable. It trashes the rights of those who might have lived most of their lives in Australia even, as was highlighted this week, those adopted as children by Australians.

This country, it would seem, is at the other end of the spectrum. Even allowing for the bungles and the inconsistencies from both Immigration New Zealand and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, the case of Karel Sroubek is extraordinary. How could someone who arrived under false credentials and who was subsequently convicted of major illicit drug importing even be considered a candidate for permanent residency?

The justification was that Sroubek's life was supposedly at risk in the Czech Republic from corrupt authorities. A judge had bought into the story and Sroubek escaped conviction on false identity charges.

The department and the minister were naive, given the totality of the material in Sroubek's file, even if it was lacking in several respects. The fact they were such a soft touch is disturbing. Sroubek was not a hard-done-by resident but a serious criminal. The immigration file actually listed convictions in his homeland. That alone should have been enough to stop Sroubek's entry in the first place, making him an "excluded person" under the Immigration Act.

Mr Lees-Galloway missed that in the file, and, apparently, officials did not raise it in discussion. Yet, the minister repeatedly insisted his original decision was difficult. Surely, he needed to ask questions and expend more effort in considering a "difficult" call.

What about Mr Lees-Galloway's broader thinking in granting the permanent residency? Does it reflect a compassionate approach from him, one that runs through much of the Government? To put it another way, is it symptomatic of a credulous, soft and foolish approach?

Is this Government prepared to make the tough decisions required from those in power? Or will the current healthy surplus drain away, further social problems emerge, welfare dependency increase and business competitiveness deteriorate?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and deputy Winston Peters were both made to look silly in their early public backing of Mr Lees-Galloway's decision. This debacle, too, has been a good illustration of why information should be public. Mr Lees-Galloway said in late October "for legal reasons and to maintain the integrity of that process, I cannot and will not divulge the information I used to make that decision". Subsequent revelations, mostly through the media, proved that the public must reject such secrecy. Ms Ardern, Mr Peters and everyone else now have every reason to distrust Mr Lees-Galloway's initial assurances. There were no special circumstances.

Most New Zealanders are appalled by the incompetence and the injustice of the granting of permanent residency. From the start, and even with limited details, it just did not seem right. People compare Sroubek with so many others who contributed positively to this country but were deported.

To add insult, the inept handling could strengthen grounds for likely appeal. That will mean more costs heaped on taxpayers and more exposure of poor judgement.

Much was missing in the immigration case file, including information in court documents that Sroubek had returned to the Czech Republic. Missing, too, was the Parole Board's September decision to refuse bail, where it called his responses "in many respects manifestly untruthful". The board also noted Sroubek's close association with the Hells Angels.

Nonetheless, and whatever the inadequate excuses about the "process", there was more than enough damming material presented to the minister.

New Zealand should eschew the hard-nosed, unjust and cruel Australian deportation approaches and methods. But neither should it be a soft and naive touch, buying into phoney stories from criminals.


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