COMMENT

We don't know this Government very well yet. We know its principles and policies and its coalition programme but we don't know whether it has good judgment. It is only when events occur that challenge a government to put aside its principles in a particular case that we begin to get a reading on its judgment.

We know the Labour Party has a great deal of unequivocal compassion for asylum seekers and indeed refugees in general. We don't know how rigorously a Labour immigration minister would check their individual situations. I have some sympathy for Iain Lees-Galloway. If a man told me his life was in my hands I'd lose a lot of sleep over a deportation decision.

Putting aside all we know about Karel Sroubek now, it is easy to say the crimes Lees-Galloway knew about ought to have outweighed the risk to the life of a drug importer with gang associations. But did they really? Often it is not until you sit in a decision making chair that the right course of action becomes clear.

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To my mind the significance of the crimes for this decision was the question they raised about Sroubek's honesty and therefore the credibility of his claim to be in mortal danger in the Czech Republic. Lees-Galloway ought to have asked his officials to check that claim more closely. Had he done so, they would easily have discovered the court records showing he'd been back to his homeland on business at least once, albeit under the false name he was using when he entered New Zealand.

It is easy to blame Immigration officials for not doing these checks of their own accord but again, it's the person in the hot seat who can see these needs clearest. It worries me that Lees-Galloway did not ask enough questions of this supposed refugee and surprises me that Jacinda Ardern was so quick to endorse his decision on Monday. A Prime Minister occupies the ultimate hot seat and is usually hyper-alert to political danger.

It worries me because mistakes in dealing with refugees can undermine public confidence in immigration overall. If there was one single event that triggered the whole Trumpian nightmare for good government in Western democracies, it was the sight of refugees walking in vast numbers into Europe in the summer of 2015.

For the media everywhere it was simply a heart-rending story of people escaping the Syrian civil war, containing no explanation of the reason all these people were suddenly on the road. To this day most people are probably unaware of the monumental misjudgment by Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel that opened the door.

Merkel, who announced the first step in her departure from politics this week, has been one of the best leaders of the 21st century. She had been 10 years in office by the time she made the fateful decision. She made it with good intentions. Responding to an appeal from Greece, where refugees were coming ashore in boats, Merkel announced asylum seekers could come to Germany to have their applications considered, unilaterally relaxing a European Union rule that they should be processed in the first EU state they reached.

She did not realise the consequences and the EU had to quickly do a deal with Turkey to stem the flow. But the political damage was done, not just to Europe but to the United States. Donald Trump knows what those images from Balkan roads did for him the following year. He is making the most of a "caravan" from Central America walking through Mexico at present, hoping they will generate Republican votes in the mid-term elections on Tuesday.

The backlash against immigration did not become apparent until 2016 when it played a large part in the Brexit decision and the US election. New Zealand has largely escaped the nightmare so far but not entirely. At our election last year the parties in the present Government all campaigned against the record immigration we had been attracting since 2013.

I happen to think we need a lot more people and was glad to see National's vote last year did not suffer, but I'm under no delusion that a majority of New Zealanders agree with me on immigration. Labour people, I think, may be under a delusion that a majority agrees with them on refugees.

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New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees a year from Australia's offshore camps seems superficially popular because Kiwis like criticising Australia, but two weeks ago it became quite possible the Australian Government will accept it — with the condition that those New Zealanders have no right to enter Australia.

Amazingly, Ardern and Lees-Galloway are willing to accept that, though Winston Peters is not. He is right. On these issues, Labour needs better judgment.