Tova O'Brien: She may not be, but Jacinda Ardern looks dodgy

OPINION: Just as Jami-Lee Ross was the most damaging political scandal of the year for National, Karel Sroubek has been the most piercing dagger in Labour's side.

And just as Mr Ross tainted Simon Bridges and his leadership so too does Sroubek damage the Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern threw herself all in from the get-go. Initially asked why the convicted drug smuggler was granted residency, the Prime Minister told us to "read between the lines". Between the lines she wanted us to know that Sroubek's safety - even his life - was in danger if he was forced to return to the Czech Republic.

It's unusual for her to stake her reputation on an issue - especially such a hyper-contentious issue - so swiftly, so unreservedly because one of the things Ms Ardern cares most about is protecting her image.

Like John Key was for National, Ms Ardern is Labour's not-so-secret weapon to be protected at all costs. It's not Ms Ardern's stellar, high performing, beyond reproach ministers that are propping up the Government. She got Labour into power, she's keeping them there and she's more conscious of that than most.

Which is why her failure to disclose a text she got from her buddy - and Sroubek's good mate - Richie Hardcore is so problematic.

It's extremely unlikely there's any great conspiracy here - no Ardern/Hardcore/Sroubek alliance - but this is a perception issue and it looks dodgy.

We don't know what's in that text. She tells us it's innocuous, a congratulatory note sent after Sroubek was granted residency by her immigration minister.

There's an element of the Hillary Clinton private email scandal in all this, the Prime Minister's been in deep water for using personal channels for official communications before.

Derek Handley was messaging and emailing the Prime Minister on her private number and her personal email about the high-profile, freshly minted government role he was going for.

It felt like it took an eon to pry details from the Prime Minister about her relationship with Handley, let alone force her to disclose the messages.

At the time Ms Ardern stood up in front of the Parliament and told us all not to worry about her using personal platforms for official communications. She told us it was all above board because we could access it through official channels like the Official Information Act (OIA).

That was entirely disingenuous and simply not the case. Newshub has made multiple requests of the Prime Minister's Office under the OIA for details of official communications she's had using personal email or messaging platforms. We have been stonewalled and refused every time.

We wanted to know if the Prime Minister was sending classified information over private platforms but she won't even tell us if she's sending sensitive or top secret government information over her Whatsapp. Apparently it's too much work to collate.

Mr Key was forced by the Ombudsman to release private texts with gossip columnist Rachel Glucina over ponytail-gate because it was in the public interest to do so.

As it stands the Prime Minister isn't releasing her texts with Mr Hardcore because she's decided it's not in the public interest. That's not her call to make. It should be for the Ombudsman to decide, and it's a decision she could have proactively sought guidance on months ago when Sroubek first became a household name and her Government first started fielding questions about who was lobbying on Sroubek's behalf.

Ms Ardern promised to lead the most open and transparent Government New Zealand has seen. That doesn't mean picking and choosing to be open and transparent when it benefits her.

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's political editor.