At first blush, it seemed this week that National was succumbing to the usual symptoms of Oppositionitis.

National was on the attack over Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway's decision to allow Czech Karel Sroubek to have residency rather than deport him after serving time for drug smuggling and associations with the Hells Angels.

The reasons for the decision were not spelled out. National smelled a rat and went at it like a Jack Russell.

The first response was to issue a call for the minister to resign if he could not produce a good reason for the decision.


It seemed somewhat hollow. The trouble with calling for a resignation is the more you do it, the less impact it has.

Former Labour leader Andrew Little called for heads to roll so often nobody paid any attention at all.

In the end, the only head that did actually roll at Little's demand was his own.

This was National leader Simon Bridges' first such call, but seemed a low threshold.

As it transpired, he may have struck it lucky.

Yesterday morning, Lees-Galloway insisted he had gone back over the decision he had made and was satisfied with the outcome. Even NZ First leader Winston Peters had gone into bat for him — Peters who usually crusades against such decisions.

Yesterday afternoon things were a lot more hairy for poor old Lees-Galloway.

He revealed he had dispatched his officials to analyse further information which appeared to contradict the information he had based his decision on.


It followed reports earlier in the day that Sroubek had visited the Czech Republic since fleeing to New Zealand, despite his apparent fears of being hunted down.

The Sroubek case has been a bonanza for National, feeding into both law and order and immigration debates.

The longer the truth remained elusive, the better it was for National.

As the week went on, the absence of an explanation for the decision made it easy to feed the perception New Zealand was a soft touch or the minister so gullible he got sucked in by a sob story.

National slathered it on. There was Mark Mitchell's vow to travel to the Czech Republic himself on a crusade for the truth.

 National Party Justice spokesman Mark Mitchell with leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party Justice spokesman Mark Mitchell with leader Simon Bridges. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It brought to mind former Green MP Steffan Browning response to the arrival of a solitary Queensland fruit fly in 2012.

Browning announced he was going to Mt Roskill "to investigate the fruit fly's pathway into New Zealand''.

Mitchell does have some relevant experience, admittedly, being a former police officer and all. But doors do not open as widely for Opposition MPs as they do for governments.

National was helped along by the cases of fine, decent law–abiding immigrants speaking out about their own failed attempts to get residency — while a criminal was allowed to stay.

Whatever Sroubek's eventual fate, the Government may want to take a long, hard look at its handling of the issue.

Voters do accept that sometimes they cannot be told everything.

It is tolerated in cases where national security is at issue or there are genuine privacy issues.

But there are limits to what they will accept. They generally draw the line when it looks like New Zealand is being hoodwinked by someone with a criminal past.

Prime Ministers do have the power to push the boundaries when required rather than simply accept risk-averse officials' assessments of what can be revealed.

In this case, keeping the truth hidden was almost more dangerous than revealing it — both to the Government and possibly Sroubek.

Ardern had invited people to read between the lines. The trouble with an absence of facts is that it is a fertiliser for conspiracy theories to thrive.

The theories ranged from the belief Sroubek's life would be in danger in the Czech Republic to the possibility he had done a deal agreeing to deliver insider information on the Hells Angels in return for residency.

The latter would possibly put his life in danger in New Zealand — and Mark Mitchell said in Parliament that he had worked in the unit of the police which dealt with such matters and there was no way residency would be traded for the sake of an informant.

Given Ardern seemed to think the answer was obvious, the question remaining is why the Government could not simply state the reason for allowing him to stay in the first place.

Peters cited privacy as a reason for non-disclosure.

Diplomacy and trade may well be the real ones.

To state out loud New Zealand was concerned Sroubek's life was in danger is effectively a slight on the Czech Republic.

It carries an underlying accusation of corruption.

Why would we worry about offending the Czech Republic? It is in the European Union — the same EU which New Zealand is in negotiations with for a free trade deal.