John Armstrong's opinion: Iain Lees-Galloway's days as Immigration Minister are numbered due to his 'ineptitude'

It almost goes without saying that Iain Lees-Galloway’s days as Minister of Immigration are numbered.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said he wants a report back in three weeks or less. Source: 1 NEWS

The question now is whether the Prime Minister will take the further and far more brutal step of dumping him from the Cabinet altogether.

Jacinda Ardern has conveyed the impression that she would be reluctant to strip the Palmerston North MP of all of his ministerial roles, which, apart from Immigration, also include responsibility for Workplace Relations and Safety plus the workings of ACC.

Source: 1 NEWS

It is worth noting that Clare Curran was sacked from the Cabinet for repeatedly flouting the procedures that a minister is required to follow for reasons of propriety.

There needs to be a detailed record kept of where they have been and who they have seen to ensure they do not expose themselves to accusations of unfair favouritism, conflict of interests or other corrupt practices.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Bryce Edwards says the Immigration Minister is in hot water for his handling of Czech drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek. Source: Breakfast

Meka Whaitiri lost her ministerial post outside Cabinet for reason of plain bad behaviour which was unacceptable in any context.

In Lees-Galloway’s case, the issue is competence. Or rather his increasingly evident lack of it.

Prime ministers have been much more reluctant to ditch ministerial underlings on grounds of incompetence or poor judgement.

There is the danger of setting the bar too high such that ministers are constantly accused of failing to meet the standard set by their boss.

That said, Lees-Galloway is making it hard for Ardern not to make an example of him.

Such has been the ineptitude displayed by the Immigration minister in his exercising of the discretion he enjoys —if that is the right word — when it comes to deciding whether to deport errant foreigners back to from whence they originally came that is making it ever more difficult for Ardern to justify his continuing to occupy a seat at the Cabinet table.

Lees-Galloway’s decision to grant New Zealand residency to a convicted drug smuggler and native of the Czech Republic was astonishing enough.

His admission yesterday that he did not read all of the material contained in the file prepared by his officials to guide his decision-making amounted to something akin to a death-wish.

If Ardern needed concrete evidence to justify giving him the boot, here it was.

Lees-Galloway’s admission has made both Ardern and Winston Peters look like fools.

The top two figures in the Government had earlier sought to defend the Immigration minister’s granting of residency to Karel Sroubek, who is currently serving a jail term after being caught trying to smuggle $375,000-worth of MDMA ecstasy powder into New Zealand hidden in tetra-pak juice containers.

The two party leaders both made a point of stressing that any minister with statutory authority to alone make such a decision could only do so on the basis of the information that officials put in front of him or her.

The implication was that the senior bureaucrats in Immigration New Zealand dealing with deportation matters had been lax and had not supplied their minister with all of the information he needed in order to make the right decision.

It now turns out that the officials did their jobs properly. But their minister did not.

Lees-Galloway barely paused for breath before dropping his next clanger. He confessed that it had.taken only just over an hour to make his decision on Sroubek’s fate.

This was somewhat at odds with the statement he issued just over a week ago reassuring the public that “this was a decision taken in full view of the information presented to me, and not a decision that I have made lightly.”

Lees-Galloway’s confessions are a result of him buckling to intense pressure.

When one of your ministers starts hiding behind the pillars in the foyer of Parliament House in order to dodge the media, you have a problem.

Most deportation cases are mundane; the outcome predictable and uncontentious.

There is nothing ordinary about Sroubek, however.

His life story might read like the script of a second-rate gangster movie. But the chequered history of someone otherwise known as Jan "Atomic" Antolik, especially in the netherworld of Thai kick-boxing should have rung enough warning bells to indicate that he could become a first-rate political headache for Lees-Galloway, and ultimately Ardern as well.

The former’s first mistake was to think he could somehow rationalise his statement that he was satisfied that Sroubrek met all the criteria for deportation only to then execute a 180 degree turn and announce he was granting New Zealand residency and then — to make matters even worse — fail to offer his reasons to explain the U-turn.

In Lees-Galloway’s view, the reasons for making a certain determination were never divulged — and things were not going to change on that front.

To think he could get away with not disclosing the background and factors behind the decision for reasons of privacy was naive in the extreme, however.

So naive that Ardern felt compelled to breach her minister’s cone of silence by suggesting that people "read between the lines".

To do so was to arrive at only one conclusion— that Sroubek would be in major danger of being seriously harmed or even murdered by former associates and enemies in the criminal fraternity were he forced to return to the Czech Republic.

Fiasco turned to farce, however, when it was revealed that such concern for his safety was not sufficient to deter him from making two trips back to the Czech Republic since his arrival in New Zealand in 2003.

That information not only blasted a rather large hole in the Immigration minister’s argument that despite being mightily reluctant to allow Sroubek to escape deportation, he really had no choice in the matter.

Worse, that information forced Lees-Galloway’s subsequent admission that in making his decision on whether to grant residence that he had been unaware that information might exist "that appears on the face of it to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision".

Arguing that he needed to take further advice and consider the veracity of that and other fresh information, Lees-Galloway blithely announced that such an investigation might take up to three weeks.

That is three weeks longer than the Prime Minister would both wish —or is likely to tolerate. It is three weeks of political vacuum which National is more than happy to fill with a string of allegations and questions germane to Lees-Galloway’s mishandling of the affair.

He has opened up a route by which the Opposition party can take pot-shots at Ardern and without her being able to return fire until Immigration New Zealand completes the further investigation ordered by Lees-Galloway.

Regardless of the findings of that investigation, the Prime Minister will have to do one thing as an absolute minimum.

Lees-Galloway will have to be relieved of the Immigration portfolio.

That is a must. The public can no longer have confidence in his exercising of his discretionary powers.

And his Labour colleagues will live in dread fear of him making another blunder of similar magnitude if he is kept in that job.