6 Jun 2023

Transport Minister Michael Wood stood down after airport shares controversy

1:34 pm on 6 June 2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has stood Michael Wood down as transport minister while any remaining issues around his conflicts are resolved.

On Tuesday morning, it was 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 did not disclose them as he thought they had been sold.

During a post-Cabinet media standup, Hipkins was asked how many times the Cabinet Office asked Wood whether he had divested his shares in the airport, Hipkins replied "probably somewhere around half a dozen" since the end of 2020.

"Michael hasn't really got an explanation for why he hadn't disposed of the shares."

Wood told the Cabinet Office a number of times he would dispose of the shares, Hipkins confirmed.

"Having indicated back in 2020 that he was intending to dispose of them, he should have done that."

Hipkins met with Wood this morning to discuss the shares.

"This morning I spoke with Michael Wood and advised him that he will be stood down as transport minister while any remaining issues around his conflicts are appropriately resolved," Hipkins said in a statement.

"Michael has indicated to me his intention to sell the shares in Auckland International Airport as soon as possible. I believe that is the appropriate course of action. He has also indicated he will work through with the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests how best to resolve the issues around his past declarations."

Wood said although he was disappointed to lose the role, he accepted the decision "with good grace" and had already met with the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests to correct the register.

Michael Wood

Michael Wood has been stood down as transport minister. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I have to take my medicine around this, and I have to put these two things right. I'll do that."

Wood said he started the process of selling the shares last year, but the "reality of the fairly busy life I have" meant he did not get back to it.

"That's not an excuse. That's the honest answer, the honest reason. I should have focused on that and got that job done and that's what I'll be doing now."

Hipkins said Wood had found himself in an "unacceptable" situation, but standing him down while he resolved the matters was the appropriate punishment.

"One of the challenges is that the Cabinet Office had been advised by him on a number of occasions that he was divesting himself of the shares. That clearly hasn't happened. That is quite a material issue, and so it's important that he does that."

Hipkins said Wood did not offer an excuse.

"The only explanation he's given me is that it's, if you like, a matter of life admin. It's not something that he has sufficiently prioritised. He should have, it is important that he does that now."

Wood did not offer his resignation, neither did the prime minister ask for it.

"I don't think the transgression is one that is so significant that he should lose his job altogether, but clearly he does need to take the time to get it right," Hipkins said.

Wood said he hoped to return to the role once the shares were sold and the register was corrected.

What does the prime minister say Wood needs to do to return to his role?

"Clearly he needs to sell the shares but also needs to make sure that issues around his pecuniary interests have been dealt with," Hipkins said at the post-Cabinet media standup.

"So, I understand he's having a conversation with the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests around that and what may need to happen there and if anything further arises from those conversations, then clearly that will need to be addressed as well."

If nothing further arose in this area during this process, Hipkins said Wood would be back as transport minister.

It was likely Wood would take "a little bit of time" to work through what he needed to, Hipkins said.

The prime minister was asked if he was confident that all of his ministers had appropriately declared every single one of their interests with the Cabinet office and the Pecuniary Interest Register.

The Cabinet office interviews ministers regularly and new ministers relatively soon after they have been identified as becoming ministers, Hipkins said.

This includes being asked about their assets, and potential relationship conflicts.

"There will always be conflicts in a small country like New Zealand, it's a question of how well managed those conflicts are."

People would potentially own a variety of assets and "as long as there's transparency around that and good management around that, it doesn't necessarily need to become a problem", Hipkins said.

"One of the things I think is frustrating about the events of the last couple of days is that I think a lot of this would have been avoided through better transparency and so you know, clearly that's something that Michael Wood will take some time to work through."

Hipkins later clarified that the transparency he was referring to was Wood declaring the shares to the Office of Pecuniary Interests through his time as an MP, regardless of whether they were held in a trust or not.

ACT leader David Seymour said it was appropriate Wood was stood down, but did not believe he had misled Parliament.

"I don't think that he's done that. That's quite different from other cases where people have gone out to deliberately dupe the public. I think in this case, he's made a mistake and fessed up. That doesn't change the fact people had the right to know, he's paid a penalty for that and I think that's about right."

National leader Christopher Luxon said Hipkins should have been stood Wood down on Friday, when the issue was first raised with the Prime Minister's office.

"Chris Hipkins had four days to show some leadership. Yet again, he's just reacting rather than proactively leading."

Kieran McAnulty has been announced as acting transport minister.