This week was Chris Hipkins’ worst since taking over from Jacinda Ardern.
Opposition parties pounced on the discovery that Transport Minister Michael Wood had shares at Auckland Airport while overseeing aviation concerns.
Hipkins was brutally questioned on Wednesday.
Several approaches were possible. National and ACT utilized all.
Wood declared his investment last year and did not alter earlier filings.
Early on, he disclosed the shares to the Cabinet Office, which was private.
The Cabinet Office encouraged him to sell them. He didn’t.
He rejected North Shore Aerodrome’s airport status proposal, which may have competed with Auckland Airport.
On Wednesday, National’s deputy leader Nicola Willis questioned Hipkins how many times the Cabinet Office had requested Wood to sell his shares.
Hipkins listed 12 November 2020–March 2020 dates.
“Throughout the process, Michael Wood confirmed that he was about to or in the process of divesting the shareholdings,” he added.
That unleashed it. Willis, ACT leader David Seymour, and other MPs joined.
A weird extrapolation:
ACT MP Chris Baillie: “How can a humble pub owner applying for a liquor licence under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act be sure that the district licencing committee members haven’t invested in a competing pub, when the prime minister couldn’t trust his own transport minister to declare shares in Auckland Airport when declining airport authority status to the North Shore Aerodrome?”
Hipkins answered a series of unconnected questions.
The prime minister wasn’t raucous when answering opposition questions.
“It was the first question time in the House since Hipkins became prime minister that he flopped back into his seat looking truly irritated and deflated,” observed Stuff’s political writer Luke Malpass.
The irony is that it was so pointless. Parliament doesn’t believe Wood profited from his $13,000 Auckland Airport shares.
Malpass stated conflict of interest management was the issue.
“If you have shares in a company you shouldn’t be making government decisions that could affect that company… for some reason, over nearly three years, Wood didn’t clear up the conflict.”
Why didn’t Wood sell the shares? He makes $300,000, therefore he wasn’t hoarding them to raise their worth.
Jenna Lynch, Newshub’s political editor, called it “absolutely baffling” for the press gallery and Parliament, including the prime minister.
Wood’s explanations are insufficient. He was busy and didn’t get around to it, there was a mix-up over an email address when he sought information about the shares, he told the person handling them to “effectively get rid of them” and thought they had been sold, they were in a trust, and he didn’t think he had to declare them.
He had a good reason for not disclosing the shares in 2018.
He mistyped the shares on the online form due to the style and green italicized text, Newshub said. The entry was missed when the register was assembled.
Online form fillers can relate.
Thursday’s sale brought $16,000. Wood donated the money.
On Thursday, the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, announced a formal inquiry into “whether Hon Michael Wood has complied with his obligations to declare certain interests under Parliament’s Standing Orders”.
He also considered “whether the matter may involve a breach of the obligations to make a return, and whether the matter is technical or trivial”.
The inquiry may affect Wood’s future.
RNZ’s website has Wever’s complete statement.
Wood, a capable minister, has messed up.
Hipkins suspended him on Tuesday until this is resolved, if possible. Wood is in charge of crucial transport projects that might bring Labour down if they fail.
Ministerial shareholdings have sparked controversy before, but the other way around.
September 2008 Herald report:
“Labour has accused National leader John Key of lying over his ownership of Tranz Rail shares after revealing he failed to completely disclose his interests.”
Labour again attacked Key as prime minister in 2010. National Business Review:
He owned holdings in Highwater Vineyard in Central Otago. Five of his 11 co-owners were grocery operators. The government reformed liquor laws.
“Key was seen as meddling in liquor law reform.”
The study concluded: “This is obviously ludicrous but that doesn’t matter in politics.”