One could almost have some sympathy for embattled Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Not a lot, but a little.
The fiasco over the offering of residency to Karel Sroubek, or whatever he calls himself these days, reveals an appalling lapse in judgement, and an alarming disconnect between the Minister and his department on the one hand and all that is rational and reasonable on the other, but the fault is not his alone.
It was Mr Lees-Galloway's decision, but he, like every other minister, relies upon his staff for good advice. Clearly, in this case he did not get good advice. Worse, even a cursory effort to gather relevant information would probably have led to a different decision.
'Governments might well glean information from the media from time to time, but it is hard to believe that there is a precedent for a minister sidling up to a journalist and quietly asking if said journalist knows more about facts applying to a decision already made than he does.'
That might not excuse him, but it does suggest that the blame should be shared around a little. Yet even his one escape route, blaming the officials who should have done much more research than they did before advising him, has been cut off.
Holding his staff accountable is now being described as chucking his staff under a bus. More a case of dragging some of them with him under said bus, perhaps, but however it's regarded, pleading that he was grievously misled by people whose job it was to know better is unlikely to save him.
One of the truly extraordinary elements of this shambles is that Mr Lees-Galloway finally had his eyes opened as to Sroubek's character by a journalist. It was Barry Soper, Newstalk ZB's political editor, who apparently let him in on the news that Sroubek, who supposedly feared for his life if he was deported to his country of origin, had returned there at least once of his own volition since arriving here on a false passport.
The NZ Herald subsequently obtained a 2009 High Court judgment revealing that Sroubek, under the name Antolik, twice successfully applied for his bail conditions to be loosened so he could travel to the Czech Republic, while he was facing charges of aggravated robbery and kidnapping, with two members of the Hells Angels and a professional kickboxer. (All four were subsequently acquitted).
"He is the owner of two businesses which are involved in trade with parties in the Czech Republic, and it is necessary for him to go there from time to time in order to facilitate transactions involving the import of Czech goods into New Zealand," wrote Justice Christopher Allan. Antolik had already demonstrated that he could be trusted to return, because he had complied with the terms of a similar variation granted earlier in the year.
Governments might well glean information from the media from time to time, but it is hard to believe that there is a precedent for a minister sidling up to a journalist and quietly asking if said journalist knows more about facts applying to a decision already made than he does.
It seems to have been Mr Soper who also informed Mr Lees-Galloway that Sroubek's wife, who we are told originally supported his application for residency, was now in such fear of him that she was seeking a restraining order against him.
Late last week we were told that some years ago Czech authorities approached their counterparts here to express interest in extraditing Sroubek to answer criminal charges there, and were told that that would "take years".
Following Sroubek's conviction on drug smuggling charges, they were apparently happy to wait for him to complete his sentence, confident that he would then be deported back to the Czech Republic.
Mr Lees-Galloway's position is not strengthened by the fact that the Court of Appeal did not believe Sroubek. Nor did the Parole Board. The Minister appears to be in a class of his own in terms of gullibility. Mike Hosking said last week that he had had so much wool pulled over his eyes that he should change his name to Shrek.
The bigger issue now though, is how much confidence we can have in the ability of Mr Lees-Galloway and his department to preside over the vetting of immigrants generally, or refugees. Or do we just take what we're given? And it puts NZ First's proposal to demand that immigrants sign up to Kiwi values, whatever they are, before they set foot outside the airport, into some perspective.
Given the lies that Karel Sroubek has told, and that Immigration swallowed, how much faith can we have in the system as it is now, let alone a declaration of intent to comply with New Zealand values?
Perhaps what we are seeing, as we saw in the demise of former Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran, is the inevitable outcome of government by people who have little or no experience outside government in its broadest sense. Career politicians, once a rarity, are now almost a majority in our so-called House of Representatives, and the divide between how they think and how the rest of us think is becoming a yawning chasm.
Mr Lees-Galloway, meanwhile, might take some consolation from the fact that he is just the latest in a series of Ministers of Immigration who have made headlines for the wrong reasons. Whether or not he keeps his job is probably irrelevant though. What is needed is a major change in attitude within his department. If he can lead that, good for him. If he can't, he should be replaced.
This department has a long history of making ad hoc decisions that seemingly have no basis in humanity or common sense. It does not specialise in rhyme or reason, or even a passing acquaintance with what this country actually needs.
The aged care sector is the best case in point. Kaitaia has its specific issue with Juliet Garcia, a Filipino who, with her husband, has lived here for 11 years, has never been unemployed, doesn't smuggle drugs, and has gained the qualifications Immigration told her she needed to become eligible for residency. The rules were changed under the last government, and now she is not wanted.
This newspaper has made her plight known to deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters (via his staff) — no response; to Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones — no response; and to deputy Labour Party leader Kelvin Davis, whose only response so far as been that Mrs Garcia falls well short of the points needed (she does not), and that granting her an exemption would "open the floodgates".
Mrs Garcia's employer, and the aged care sector in general, desperately needs the flood gates to open. If they don't the entire sector will continue to face a staffing crisis that it says will inevitably see homes, and more particularly hospital facilities, close. One already has. Kaitaia's Switzer Home fears it could be next.
Associate Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, the go-to person for Mrs Garcia, refuses to intervene. Iain Lees-Galloway refuses to meet Far North Mayor John Carter and Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace. They are presiding over the collapse of the aged care sector, and don't even want to talk about it.
The only politician who is interested is Northland MP Matt King, and he has conceded defeat.
This debacle goes way beyond the fate of one foreign drug smuggler. Immigration NZ needs to be dismantled and put together again. And it needs a minister who can do that.