Suspended transport minister Michael Wood was asked several times about his shares in Auckland Airport, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says.
Wood was stood down as transport minister on Tuesday, after Hipkins spoke to him over his partially declared Auckland Airport 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 when announcing the suspension.
“This will be effective immediately.”
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When asked later about how many times the Cabinet office had checked whether Wood had divested the shares, Hipkins said, “probably somewhere around half a dozen”.
“Michael hasn’t really got an explanation for why he hadn’t disposed of the shares,” Hipkins said.
Hipkins said it was an unacceptable situation, and Wood needed to take time to make sure he “gets his potential conflict of interest sorted”.
“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.”
National’s acting Auckland spokesperson Paul Goldsmith on Tuesday morning described Wood’s $13,000 worth of shares as a “clear conflict of interest for a minister of transport responsible for Auckland’s transport network and as minister for Auckland”.
“For more than a year as transport minister, from late 2020 to early 2022, he did not declare his holding,” Goldsmith said. “That is a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual. His position may be untenable.”
Goldsmith said later on Tuesday afternoon Wood should be stood down from all his portfolios, including his Auckland portfolio, and there should be an independent review into the situation.
Wood said Hipkins’ decision was appropriate and that he accepted it “with good grace”.
“I made a mistake here. I accept that. That’s on me. And the appropriate thing to do now is to fix it.
“I made two mistakes. The first was not to declare that earlier on and that was a genuine error, and the second one was not completing the sale of the shares last year, I’ll be fixing both of those.”
Wood said he was “enormously disappointed” in being stood down from the Transport portfolio.
“It’s a portfolio I love, that I put huge energy into.
“I have to take my medicine around this. And I have to put these two things right and I’ll do that and then I look forward to getting back to the important work.”
Hipkins said Wood “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.”
Hipkins said Kieran McAnulty would be acting minister of transport.
McAnulty had “no idea” how long he would be holding the portfolio and he was not worried about the added workload.
When asked about his own interests, McAnulty said, “I have $1250 in a managed investment fund and I have 1.6% leased share and a racehorse, that’s it. Its name is St Bernard and had its first run yesterday and it came second to last.”
Wood said on Tuesday morning he did declare the shares in the Register of Pecuniary interests last year “when I became aware that I had made an error early on and not declaring them, so this is not a new issue”.
“I declared them in the register last year.”
Wood said he made the Cabinet Office fully aware of the shares from the beginning of his time as minister.
He said the first year he was a minister, “which I apologise for, because I got this wrong, I had instructed the person who deals with these things for me to effectively get rid of those shares”.
Wood later said he was referring to a stockbroker.
“I thought that had happened. I was wrong about that. So I didn’t declare them that year.”
He said when he prepared his Register of Pecuniary in the following year, he realised he still held the shares. He then declared the shares.
“I have acknowledged in this case is that I have made an error in terms of not declaring these shares earlier on. I did declare them last year and I did from the beginning of my time as minister, make Cabinet Office fully aware of the shares that I held.”
Hipkins said the situation was “certainly not helpful, but I’m going to have a conversation with him about it”.
Leader of the Opposition Chris Luxon during caucus run.
Opposition leader Christopher Luxon said Hipkins should have suspended Wood “immediately”, then arrived at Parliament on Tuesday “with some proper answers” about the situation.
“We have absolute standards, and it’s mission-critical in New Zealand we can trust our Government and our governance.
“As soon as you start to have relative standards, not absolute standards, that’s a real problem in New Zealand.”