Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says he won’t “run away” from the political firestorm surrounding Czech convict Karel Sroubek by offering his resignation – instead changing his own process for reviewing deportation decisions and overseeing a review of Immigration New Zealand’s process.
“I accept that I probably should have taken more time, I should have asked more questions,” he told TVNZ 1’s Breakfast this morning, less than 24-hours after reversing his decision in the Sroubek case, meaning the drug smuggler is now expected to be deported upon release from prison instead of keeping his residency.
“I’m taking responsibility for that, and that is why I’m changing my approach.”
But the minister’s mistake was so egregious he needs to resign, says the man who previously held his job when National was in power.
“If I hear the word ‘process’ one more time I’m going to scream,” MP Michael Woodhouse told Breakfast’s Jack Tame immediately after Mr Lees-Galloway’s appearance on the show. “It’s got nothing to do with process and everything to do with judgement, or the lack of it.
“There was plenty of information and advice for him to make the right decision in the first place. He didn’t, and that goes to lack of judgement. He just doesn’t have what it takes to address these very important cases.”
Sroubek is currently serving a sentence of five years and nine months for importing nearly five kilograms of Ecstasy worth $375,000 into New Zealand. The conviction, along with the fact he entered New Zealand and was granted residency under a false name, made him eligible for deportation upon release.
But Sroubek’s lawyers asked that he be allowed to stay in New Zealand because it wasn’t safe for him to return to the Czech Republic. Last month, Mr Lees-Galloway approved the request.
A simple Google search, however, would have shown that Sroubek had returned to Europe previously so must not have been too fearful, Breakfast host Jack Tame pointed out today.
Mr Lees-Galloway said that would have only caused more problems.
“I shouldn’t be Googling to find out information about people whose cases that I’m deciding,” he said. “There could be anything out there. It could be completely untrue. It could be completely irrelevant to the decision.
“That’s not only unfair to the person whom I’m making the decision, but it actually potentially prejudices the case and makes it open for legal challenge.”
The minister conceded, however, that the process for deciding what information Immigration NZ puts before him could be changed so that more information gets into the file in the future.
Before making his decision, the minister said he reviewed a “thorough” 12-page summary of INZ’s 398-page Sroubek file. He also discussed it with an INZ official and looked through portions of the file that answered his questions, he said.
But Tame took issue with his characterisation that it was one of the hardest decisions of his political career,
“The thing is the public expects a high level of judgement from its ministers,” Tame said. “How is the public supposed to have faith in you if in making one of the hardest decision of your career you didn’t think it was appropriate to read all of the notes... It’s a question of judgement, isn’t it?”
Mr Lees-Galloway said he’s learned from those mistakes and plans to “front up” by fixing the process.
“I’m not going to run away from this,” he said.
But Woodhouse, the former minister, said it’s not the process that is broken but Mr Lees-Galloway’s decision making.
Even without information that Sroubek had previously returned to the Czech Republic, it was an “indefensible decision” to let him stay in New Zealand, he contended – echoing the argument of National leader Simon Bridges.
INZ is very careful not to give recommendations to the minister, he pointed out.
“They put six options before the minister, and I think he picked the one they thought was sixth most likely,” he said. “I’m pretty convinced that they would have fallen off their chairs when the file went back to Immigration New Zealand with a decision to grant him residence.”
Tame suggested the situation was reminiscent of National’s response to the meth testing controversy, in which officials said, in essence, “We’re only as good as the advice we received. Isn’t saying the INZ file didn’t have all the pertinent information out of the same playbook," he asked.
Mr Woodhouse disagreed.
“The advice was more than enough to send him home,” he said. “The minister didn’t, and as a consequence he also should go.”