Transport Minister Michael Wood did not immediately declare shares he owned in Auckland Airport when he became an MP or when he later took up the transport portfolio, despite his responsibility for the light rail line the Government promised to build to the airport and his then role as the minister overseeing aviation regulation.
A legal expert believes it could mean Wood is hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee facing a charge of contempt - the second senior Labour minister to come before the committee in as many weeks.
Wood has owned the shares since he was a teenager, but only began declaring them in the MPs’ register of pecuniary interests, the public list of MPs’ financial interests, in January 2022.
When contacted about the shares by the Herald, a spokesperson for Wood said he was now in the process of getting rid of them. He owns 1530 shares, worth about $13,000 at the current price.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB he would be having a discussion with Wood today before making further judgement.
Hipkins did not say whether he would sack Wood.
Hipkins said he would speak with Wood about the Auckland Airport shares today and give an update about Wood at his post-Cabinet press conference.
Hipkins said he was under the impression that Wood did not know he had to declare the shares in such detail.
“I want to find out the facts of what happened and why it happened before making judgement,” said Hipkins.
The spokesperson said Wood had not initially declared the shares because he believed they were owned inside a trust. He began declaring them properly in January 2022 after he became aware they were held directly.
A spokesperson for Wood confirmed Wood “owns shares in Auckland Airport and Contact Energy which he purchased as a teenager in the 1990s”, the spokesperson said.
“He mistakenly thought that they were held in a trust, which has been declared since his election to Parliament and his appointment as an Under Secretary,” they said.
Wood has declared himself as both a trustee and a beneficiary of the JM Fairey Trust.
The issue could eventually mean Wood is hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee facing a charge of contempt for failing to go back and correct his previous pecuniary interest declarations when he became aware he had filed them incorrectly.
Education Minister Jan Tinetti has her own date with the Privileges Committee this week to explain why she failed to correct an answer she gave in the House immediately after she became aware it was wrong.
Wood’s lack of declaration is also a potential breach of the Cabinet Manual because of the potential perceived conflict of interest between his ownership of shares in an airport while he was the minister responsible for the aviation sector.
National thinks this is not good enough.
Acting Auckland spokesman Paul Goldsmith says Wood should have declared the interest in the airport whether it was held in a trust or not. He said, in his opinion, the lack of declaration was a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual because Wood was the minister responsible for regulating the aviation sector for part of the time he held the shares.
As the sole Minister of Transport after November 2020, Wood was responsible for the aviation sector.
However, the aviation delegation was given to Associate Transport Minister Kieran McAnulty after a reshuffle in June 2022. It is now held by Kiri Allan.
“For more than a year as Minister of Transport he owned shares in Auckland Airport, knew he owned them, and thought they were in a trust and didn’t acknowledge them,” Goldsmith said.
“How on earth he thought he didn’t have to declare them is beyond me. We are only led to conclude he thought he could get away with not declaring them because they were within a trust,” he said.
The shares have been declared on Wood’s pecuniary interest entry correctly since 2022, and appear again in the recently published 2023 register. But this may not have gone far enough.
Otago University Law Professor Andrew Geddis said because Wood did not immediately correct his declarations in previous registers it could mean he is investigated and eventually hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee.
“Parliament’s Standing Orders set up the Register of Pecuniary Interests and those standing orders require an MP who’s made a mistake in the register to correct that mistake when they become aware of it as soon as is practicable.
“That means not just filing correct returns after realising the mistake but going back and putting right returns that have already been made and ensuring they are accurate.”
Geddis said another MP could complain to the registrar of pecuniary interests, alleging there has been a failure to follow the rules properly.
If the registrar found the rules had been breached, they could refer the matter to the Speaker, who could then refer it to the Privileges Committee to determine whether it put the offending MP in contempt of the House.
“Failing to correct a register of pecuniary interests is potentially a contempt of the House that could be punished by the Privileges Committee if the Speaker were to send the matter to that institution for examination,” Geddis said.
Geddis commented on the case without knowing the identity of the MP to preserve his independence working on the Government’s electoral law reform group, which published draft recommendations today.
After a media query on Thursday, Wood’s office on Friday confirmed to the Herald he would be selling the shares.
“Once he became aware they were held outside of the trust in 2022, he listed these appropriately and he is in the process of divesting these shares,” the spokesperson said.
Tinetti’s Privileges Committee hearing comes after she told the House in February that she had no responsibility for the release of school attendance data; however, she was told later that day by staff this was an error. She corrected the record on May 2, 14 sitting days later.
Tinetti would be the first MP in 15 years to be found in contempt of Parliament. The most recent was Winston Peters, who was referred to the Privileges Committee over whether he should have declared a $100,000 donation from businessman Owen Glenn in 2005 towards his legal costs.
The committee recommended a censure motion, which the House later voted on and passed.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation into correspondence former minister Stuart Nash had with his donors is ongoing.