Michael Wood has quit as a Cabinet minister after it emerged he had more shareholding interests in areas that clashed with his portfolios.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed Wood’s resignation today, saying he became aware of the fresh issues yesterday.
It has emerged Wood held further shares in Chorus, Spark and the National Australia Bank, further to his Auckland Airport shares, that have since been disclosed to Hipkins.
Wood’s failure to manage the conflicts of interest was “beyond frustrating”, Hipkins said.
In a statement, Wood admits he hasn’t managed his shareholdings effectively and takes responsibility for it.
“[A]s such, [I] have submitted my resignation to the Prime Minister. I apologise to him and the public for this situation.”
He explained that he had reviewed his financial interests over the past couple of weeks following revelations about his shares in Auckland Airport.
During that process, he identified that a family trust he was a part of owned the shares and that should have been communicated to the Cabinet Office.
“Similar to my ownership of personal shares, these were historic holdings from before I was a Trustee and I have paid limited attention to them.
“At all times I have provided information about shares in the Trust to the Cabinet Office that I have believed was correct, but in this case my understanding was incorrect.”
He described himself as a “true believer in politics” and that there hadn’t been a “second of my political career where any of my financial interests have influenced my actions or even crossed my mind”.
Wood said he would be taking “some personal time” before returning to work as the MP for Mt Roskill and would not be making any further statements.
The bank shares weren’t disclosed when the Cabinet discussed a possible market study into the banking industry. That was despite repeated requests from Hipkins and others for Wood to disclose his shares.
“New Zealanders expect and deserve very high standards from their ministers,” Hipkins said.
Hipkins said he was frustrated and angry at the revelations.
“These have been unnecessary distractions.”
Carmel Sepuloni will become the Minister of Auckland and Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, Andrew Little will be Immigration Minister, David Parker will cover Transport, and Kiri Allan will become the Associate Finance Minister.
Hipkins said he didn’t believe Wood had acted with any intent for personal gain, saying he was hardworking, but had shown a lack of judgment.
He said he didn’t know what the shares were worth. The bank shares were in the “tens of thousands” and the other shares were less than that.
Asked if Wood lied to him, Hipkins didn’t answer directly, saying Wood hadn’t appropriately disclosed his shares.
He said he met with Wood to talk about the shares and accepted his verbal resignation which was then finalised.
Hipkins said “it was still an issue I don’t quite understand”, when asked whether Wood wilfully misled him.
On Wood’s explanation of why he didn’t disclose the other shares, Hipkins said Wood told him the shares had been in possession of the shares for a while.
Hipkins said that wasn’t adequate.
“I don’t accept it was just simply something he didn’t get to. It should have been a priority and it wasn’t.... his explanation was they had been the trust for a long time.”
He didn’t understand why it hadn’t taken so long, years, for Wood to manage his shareholdings.
“I believe Michael to be an honest and decent person.”
“I am very very disappointed ... the amount of time it’s taken to identify any relevant issues is unacceptable.”
“He still hasn’t given me a good explanation,” Hipkins said of why Wood hadn’t declared them sooner.
Wood’s future in politics is a question for him,” Hipkins said, noting MPs who made mistakes have come back from that.
Asked if Wood could become a Cabinet minister again, Hipkins said that would be considered if the opportunity came up.
He was a trustee of the trust that held the shares, which was a key issue.
Hipkins said he indicated to Wood that his position as a minister was “untenable”.
Hipkins said he had formed the view that the system to manage conflicts for ministers needs to change.
He had asked the Cabinet secretary to provide advice on how such an incident won’t happen again.
The Cabinet Office will move to quarterly reporting of conflicts of interests, sent to the PM, Hipkins said.
There will also be an escalation process if ministers are not acting on the advice on interests.
There would also be in-person annual reviews with ministers to discuss potential conflicts.
Each minister would be asked to nominate someone in their office to be aware of possible conflicts to “act as a second pair of eyes”.
Conflict disclosures will become a standing item of Cabinet meetings.
These are the five things Hipkins has brought in as a result of the Wood scandal.
Hipkins said he is also looking into restricting shareholdings that can be held by ministers.
It would be a significant change to New Zealand’s position but Hipkins said it was an appropriate step.
Wood had been stood down as Transport Minister, after the Herald revealed he still owned shares in Auckland Airport.
He had been asked 12 times by Cabinet Office officials to sell the shares, but failed to do so until the story was broken.
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.
Wood’s shares were raised three times with former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office - which was wrongly told he had sold them.
Wood holds the portfolios of Transport, Auckland, Immigration, Workplace Relations as well as being the associate Minister for Finance.
As Immigration Minister, Wood had agreed to include telecommunications technicians on an immigration green list, which makes it easier to employ migrants.