6 Jun 2023

Further conversation to be had with transport minister about airport shares, PM says

11:33 am on 6 June 2023
Michael Wood

Michael Woods says he didn't declare the shares because he thought they had been sold. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Transport Minister Michael Wood is apologising for failing to properly declare his shares in Auckland Airport as the prime minister seeks more details on the controversy.

Chris Hipkins intends having a further conversation with Wood after it was revealed the shares were not properly declared.

On Tuesday morning, the New Zealand Herald reported that Wood did not declare his shares immediately when he became an MP or when he took up the transport portfolio.

Wood purchased the shares, worth about $13,000, when he was a teenager in the 1990s.

He declared the shares to the Cabinet Office when he became a minister in 2020.

However, he failed to declare them in the public register of MPs' assets and other interests until 2022.

Wood said he didn't disclose them as he thought they had been sold.

"In the first year that I was a minister [2020/2021] the error that I made, which I apologise for because I got this wrong, was that I had instructed the person who deals with these things for me to effectively get rid of those shares.

"I thought that had happened, I was wrong about that, so I didn't declare them that year," Wood said.

"When I prepared my register of interest for the following year and I investigated these matters, I determined that I still held the shares and that's when I declared them," Wood said.

Wood said he then made a second attempt at selling his shares in 2022.

"I began the process of selling them last year. I began engaging with the person who deals with these things for me around that. There was some additional information that I needed to receive from the share registry, which didn't come through and the process stalled at that point."

In an earlier statement, Wood's office suggested he hadn't declared the shares as he thought that if they were held in a trust, as he believed they were, they did not need to be declared separately.

Wood's office later confirmed that statement was incorrect.

He was now in the process of selling them.

Hipkins said his office only became aware of the issue on Friday.

Speaking to Morning Report, Hipkins said he has not had the chance to get "all the detail on that".

"Obviously there's been a long weekend in the intervening period. I had a conversation with him last night.

"My understanding and the advice I've had from the Cabinet office so far is that those shares were declared to the Cabinet office in terms of the interests register that the Cabinet office hold but weren't appropriately declared on his register of pecuniary interests as a parliamentarian."

PM Chris Hipkins

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Hipkins said it "ultimately isn't a matter for me" and that the registrar for the Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests Register would make a judgement on it.

"My view is that we have a register of pecuniary interests for a reason and people should certainly follow the rules for it but as I said, it's not something I've had the opportunity to get any detail on."

Hipkins said he would be having a further conversation with Wood about it later this morning.

National's acting Auckland spokesperson said this was a "colossal error of judgement" from Wood.

Paul Goldsmith said it was "pretty basic" that if you were the transport minister, you should not be owning shares in Auckland International Airport given the conflicts of interest.

Even when he did declare the shares, Goldsmith said Wood continued to be transport minister and continued to be part of decision making which influenced airport shares.

"They should be declared so that New Zealanders can make a judgement. Why is this important? Because it's fundamentally important in terms of the integrity of the system that New Zealanders can be confident that ministers are making decisions in the best interest of all New Zealanders and they don't have a personal interest.

"That's why these things should be declared openly and transparently and failing to do so is a real problem for this minister and this government."

Goldsmith said he was yet to hear a "decent defence" from either Wood or Hipkins.

Hipkins' comments so far had shown "less than fulsome support" and he was right to "hedge his bets".

Goldsmith said it was an "impossible position" for Wood to be in and thought his position was untenable.

"He should never have allowed himself to be conflicted like this."

Meanwhile, an independent review panel has recommended a referendum on extending the Parliamentary term from 3 to 4 years.

It also suggested lowering the voting age to 16 and reducing the 5 percent threshold down to 3.5 percent.

Hipkins told Morning Report it was important to note there was another round of public consultation to go on these recommendations and he encouraged New Zealanders to make a submission and have their voice heard.

"The Labour Party will of course have its own policy platform of these issues going through to the coming election. There are a few areas where we were on record previously of being relatively supportive."

In terms of extending the term to four years, Hipkins said he was personally in favour of it.

"I think you'd find most incumbent members of Parliament are, but having said that, that is a matter for the voters to decide if the referendum was put before them."

With regard to the change in threshold, Hipkins said he thought 5 percent "works pretty well".