Wood in the dock over failure to offload shares

Michael Wood (INL File Photo)

Venu Menon
Wellington, June 7, 2023

An embattled Minister for Auckland Michael Wood faced a barrage of questions in Parliament from the Opposition on his failure to offload his shareholdings in Auckland International Airport, which led to his losing the transport portfolio.

The debate intensified around Wood’s continuing to hold on to the shares despite repeated reminders from the Cabinet Office, with National’s Paul Goldsmith wondering why Wood did not sell his shares in Auckland Airport after committing to the Cabinet Office that he would do so.

Wood took the defence that the sale process had been set in motion in early 2022 but expressed regret that “I did not complete it.”

“That is an issue that I am focused on fixing now,” he told the House. But Goldsmith was quick to ask why the sale process had commenced in 2022 when Wood had told the Cabinet Office in late 2020 that he was going to sell his shares.

Wood admitted that, while he had declared all of his shareholdings to the Cabinet Office when he became Minister, he had failed to “pursue that as quickly as I should have.”

But Goldsmith persisted that defaulting in the face of 12 queries from the Cabinet Office “can only be either deliberate concealment or rank incompetence.”

Wood agreed that he should have sold the shares “more quickly.”

Earlier, Nicola Willis, Deputy Leader of the National Party, squared off on the issue with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. She wanted to know the number of occasions that the Cabinet Office had asked Wood whether he had divested his shares in Auckland Airport.

Prime Minister Hipkins listed 12 dates between 19 November 2020 and 27 March 2023, during which the Cabinet Office “sought to confirm whether he [Wood] had divested the shareholding.”

“Throughout the process, Michael Wood confirmed that he was about to or was in the process of divesting the shareholdings,” the PM told members.

Hipkins added that Wood “should have divested the shares when he first said he was going to.”

Willis wondered why Wood was still retaining his position in Cabinet “when on 12 occasions he misled the Cabinet Office into believing he was divesting his shares, but failed on 12 occasions to do so?”

Hipkins expressed frustration that the Cabinet Office had not highlighted the fact of Wood’s shareholding “when I was doing the [Cabinet] reshuffle.”

In response to her demand for an independent investigation into the matter, the PM believed there was no need for one “because the facts are clear and they are not contested.”

Leader of the ACT Party David Seymour then demanded that the written correspondence between Minister Wood and the Cabinet Office be released to the public.

However, the PM rejected the demand on the grounds that the Cabinet Office’s records “are subject to the Official Information Act.”

The House witnessed Opposition members raising questions en masse around breach of trust and conflict of interest, with Prime Minister Hipkins parrying each query by demanding evidence to support the claim.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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