Comment: What pecuniary interests, I asked the minister, did he have beyond those disclosed in the 2021 register of interests?
“None,” Michael Wood replied, unequivocally.
That was July 5, two years ago. I’d approached him for an explanation, after registrar Sir Maarten Wevers formally rapped him over the knuckles for filing his returns late.
“I am disappointed to have to draw to the attention of the House the existence of late returns, once again,” Wevers said, in his report to Parliament.
There are many of us who appreciate that life admin can sometimes fall by the wayside when we’re busy. Just yesterday I finally caught up on paying my sorely overdue road user charges from last year, claimed some travel expenses from Budget week, cleared a small speed camera ticket from February, but I didn’t get the kids’ dinner on the table till 8.30pm …
To be blunt, though, what distinguishes most of us from Michael Wood is we don’t have executive assistants; we don’t have the Cabinet Office reminding us 12 times (12!) to sell our problematic Auckland Airport shares. (In my case, NZTA didn’t send even one road user charge invoice; the first I realised it was overdue was when an email from the debt collection agency landed!)
Moreover, most of us aren’t making related decisions, such as driving through light rail to the airport, that will change the face of our biggest city for generations.
Finally, Wood’s written response to my emailed questions two years ago was more than an error of omission; he directly and explicitly told me he had no other pecuniary interests. That was simply untrue.
As with sacked minister Stuart Nash, once one error is disclosed then others tend to follow.
Chris Hipkins has learned from Nash’s demise, and avoided putting Wood on a “last warning”. He will want Wood back in the key transport portfolio – his roster of experienced ministers is fast collapsing.
But yesterday, Hipkins was forced to confirm that the Cabinet Office had reminded Wood to dispose of the airport shares 12 times, not the six that the prime minister had first been told.
And now Hipkins has learned that Wood expressly denied having any undisclosed pecuniary interests, in an emailed statement to Newsroom.
National MP Paul Goldsmith says his email to Newsroom came at a time that the Cabinet Office had already contacted Wood five times about whether he had sold his shares in Auckland Airport, part of its lengthy and unsuccessful attempt to get him to follow the rules.
He calls Wood’s response to Newsroom “demonstrably false”.
“He knew he owned the shares, and he knew they represented a conflict of interest. His answer rested on the fig leaf that he thought because the shares were held in a trust they didn’t have to be declared.”
It pushes the saga into a third day – and at last count, Michael Wood still hasn’t disposed of the small but embarrassing shareholding. He said yesterday afternoon that he had contacted his broker to begin the process “urgently”.
It’s an urgency that he should have discovered a long time ago.