9 Nov 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't sack immigration minister over Czech drug smuggler case

12:06 pm on 9 November 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is not thinking of sacking her immigration minister over revelations he took just an hour to consider the Czech drug smuggler case, after coming under renewed pressure to do so.

Iain Lees-Galloway, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, ACC, and of Immigration.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

When asked by a Newstalk ZB presenter this morning whether she'd accept the minister's resignation if he offered it, she said: "No... at the moment what I'm focused on is getting this issue right."

"That's a hypothetical. I'm focused on getting this issue resolved."

Ms Ardern said she was not happy with the general process for deportation but stressed it had existed through various governments.

"This is not unique to our immigration minister," she said.

"Successive immigration ministers have gone through a process with Immigration that I think can be improved."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway also revealed yesterday he did not read the entire case file before deciding to let Karel Sroubek remain in New Zealand despite the man being in jail for drug smuggling.

The minister told reporters he had been thorough and followed the "usual process".

But National MP Michael Woodhouse said Mr Lees-Galloway had been reckless.

"With a case as complex and serious as this, and with the highest level of public interest, it behoved the minister to ... take a much, much more thorough examination of all the relevant facts."

The former immigration minister said while some cases were able to be processed quickly, decisions to stop someone being deported always required a "deep-dive".

"A file could come back two or three times over a series of weeks, or even months in the most serious of cases, in order to establish all the facts that were relevant to it.

"The fact that [the case] crossed the desk within minutes or up to an hour and a letter was signed out to the lawyer that afternoon is absolutely extraordinary."

Michael Woodhouse

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mr Woodhouse said Ms Ardern had to sack the minister or her own leadership would be called in to question.

Mr Woodhouse told Morning Report the minister had been guilty of a "significant failure of due diligence" when he used ministerial prerogative to cancel deportation liability.

"And a lack of transparency about that, and thirdly, some serious evasiveness with his boss," he said.

"So he's been quick, he has not gone into the details and then he's portrayed this as some very very difficult decision, a complex decision he had to make and he assured his prime minister that he had done the necessary due diligence and clearly that is just not the case."

In a statement, Ms Ardern also told RNZ she was focused on resolving the issue.

"It appears there is contradictory information in the public domain and [Immigration New Zealand] is working through that as quickly as possible.

"Once we have resolved this issue, then we'll have the opportunity to look at the way deportation decisions are made."

Immigration New Zealand general manager Stephen Dunstan told Checkpoint last night the Sroubek file was "large", possibly several hundred pages long.

"The case-note on top is about five to eight pages often. You can read that quite quickly and get a really good summary of the case.

"The supporting documentation you'd expect the decision-maker to dip into as they need to get clarification."

He said officials provided ministers with "comprehensive" information including prior convictions and travel information.

"We've been running this process for a large number of years. The same process has been run through multiple ministers over a decade and a half."

Former National MP Aussie Malcolm held the Immigration portfolio from 1981 through to 1984.

He said Sroubek's case should have set off alarm bells for the minister.

"Seeing drugs, seeing jail ... one would either quickly make a decision to kick him out or else if you thought you wanted to let him stay you'd take a few hours and go through the file with a fine-tooth comb.

"His instinct should have said, 'Take the case home, buddy, and look at the file from cover to cover'."

Sroubek was jailed in New Zealand in 2016 for five years and nine months for importing the drug MDMA.