Never mind a bear market, one minister-in-waiting is selling off all his shares in a beer market.
Senior National MP Chris Bishop confirms he’s divesting his 500 shares in the Wellington craft brewery Parrotdog, as he prepares to take a seat at the Cabinet table.
The infrastructure, housing and urban development spokesperson says he’s already sold his shares in office and shopping centre developer Kiwi Income Property. He is preparing to sell off his remaining shares in payroll company Paysauce Ltd, and Australian telecommunications giant Telstra.
He had earlier told Newsroom that the disproportionate publicity he’d received for owning the brewery shares was “comical”, and he would divest his small shareholdings the day after National won the election. “Just so much cleaner.”
That came after Labour’s Michael Wood resigned in June this year, after it was revealed the transport minister owned shares that he’d failed to declare in Auckland International Airport and Contact Energy, and through his family trust held shares in Chorus, Spark, and the National Australia Bank that he did not declare.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has sought advice on a full Restrictions Regime on shareholdings for Ministers, like the Australian ban on ministerial shareholdings in public and private companies. The only exceptions would be public superannuation funds or blind managed funds or trusts where the Minister has no visibility or control of decision-making.
“It’s hard enough being an MP as it is, and all the disclosure requirements around it.”
– Andrew Bayly, National MP
Bishop is not the only senior National MP divesting shares – but others emphasise there are ways they can hold onto their shares while managing any conflicts of interest.
Andrew Bayly is presently a list MP, because the Port Waikato poll was cancelled this month, due to the death of a candidate. Bayly is frontrunner to be returned as constituency MP in a by-election on November 25.
As Newsroom reported this month, Bayly did not declare his ownership of about $90,000-worth of shares in a successful software company that contracts to government agencies.
The shares are held in trust. The Registrar of Pecuniary Interests Sir Maarten Wevers says MPs have to disclose non-property assets held in trust, but MPs on Parliament’s privileges committee say they don’t have to.
Bayly also has his own property company, Paparimu Land Ltd, and holds other property in an array of trusts.
Asked if he would divest his shares, he says he’ll “do whatever is required” – but his preference is disclosure in Cabinet, rather than divestment.
“Where there are financial interests that have clear conflict, that gives rise to significant issues,” he acknowledges. “The trouble is for some people who come into Parliament with a wider background. Your conflicts can always be managed – even within companies, people manage conflicts. It’s a question about how they’re managed – that’s the big issue.
“There’s different ways of dealing with that, rather than just a blanket requirement to sell all your shares. Because what happens if you suddenly have a new portfolio? Do you have to sell every share because you’ve got a new role? You’ve got to think about the practicalities of that. Where there’s a clear conflict, it needs to be disclosed and dealt with.”
He suggests one solution would be to keep shares in a blind trust, where the value of the shareholding might be impacted by a ministerial or Cabinet decision. “Some shares I have in a blind trust, so I don’t have to manage them.”
Bayly says the position taken by the new National-led government on requiring minister to sell all their shares will be a question for Christopher Luxon. “The only thing I would say is that it’s hard enough being an MP as it is, and all the disclosure requirements around it. So people should do what’s right, and obviously I’ll do anything that’s required, to do what’s right. But conflicts can be managed in many ways.”
Selling off shares
MPs like Chris Bishop and his colleague Simeon Brown are pre-empting the official advice on a share divestment regime, ordered by the outgoing prime minister.
Even though the negotiations are barely underway between National, Act and NZ First that will determine who has a ministerial warrant, Bishop says he’s begun selling shares. “We haven’t actually formed a government yet,” he notes. “Yes, I’ve sold my Kiwi Income shares and am in the process of selling a couple of other small holdings I have, including Parrotdog.”
Are all the National Party’s ministers-to-be advised to do the same? “As the government is formed incoming ministers will be taking advice from Cabinet Office about the appropriate actions to take,” he tells Newsroom. “That’s standard for all governments.”
His colleague Simeon Brown, who is likely to be transport minister in a new government, reiterates that National has yet to form a government. “If it does so and I am offered a ministerial position I will seek advice from the Cabinet Office and act in accordance with it.”
Like Michael Wood, he holds shares in National Australia Bank, which owns BNZ in this country. “As stated earlier, if I am appointed a Minister I intend to divest any shares.”
Other senior National MPs would make no commitment to sell their shares. Judith Collins did not reply to Newsroom questions about her shares in CDL Hotels Ltd, though she’s previously said she’d be happy to sell them if leader Christopher Luxon told her to.
Declared pecuniary interests of potential ministers
The MP with the longest list of shareholdings is Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith, with 35 shareholdings in mostly New Zealand-listed companies disclosed – 30 of them held in trusts. But he's a long way down National's rankings and it's questionable whether Luxon would make him a minister. Asked it he'll divest his shares, Smith says he'll seek advice in the next couple of weeks.
Other ministerial contenders who have directorships or shareholdings include No 4-ranked MP Shane Reti, who has his own medical consulting, property investment, and construction companies. He also has minority shareholdings in a medical practice and a private hospital in Whangārei, and shares in Nasdaq-listed Rocket Lab.
No 6-ranked Taupō MP Louise Upston also has shares in Rocket Lab USA, as well as in locally listed medical cannabis firm Cannasouth, Rakon, TruScreen and electricity gentailed Mercury NZ (which is 51 percent owned by the Government).
Selwyn MP Nicola Grigg has her own property investment firm, and Hamilton West MP Tama Potaka is a director of Māori farm investment firm Parininihi ki Waitōtara Incorporation, Te Arawa Group Holdings, iwi property investment firms Ngāi Tai Hāpai General Partner Ltd and Ngāi Tai Hāpai Development General Partner Ltd. He has shares in a consultancy and charity events operator TriMāori Corporate Trustee Ltd.
Act opposes ban on share ownership
It's not just National MPs who will have to grabble with questions about divesting shares. Depending on the outcome of coalition negotiations, Act and NZ First MPs may also be appointed ministers.
While several Act Party MPs have disclosed shares or ownership interests in farms, pubs and other businesses, most would not be contenders for ministerial appointments. Only Nicole McKee, who has an interest in consultancy Firearms Safety Specialists NZ Ltd, and Andrew Hoggard with his farm holding company in Rangitīkei, might be on the cusp.
Act leader David Seymour says he himself has no shareholdings; only his managed KiwiSaver fund.
"I don't support the idea that you can't be a Cabinet minister if you own shares in something," he told Newsroom in June. "We don't want it to be a priesthood where you have to enter unclothed and penniless. That you live in a monastery for the time you're a minister.
"It should be that the House of Representatives and the Cabinet should be representative of New Zealand, and it should have people that own shares and trade in shares as well as people with a variety of other skills and experiences."
NZ First's opaque business interests
NZ First leader Winston Peters is sole owner and director of a company named Oriwa Enterprises Ltd, described on the Companies Office as offering business consultant services.
His deputy Shane Jones, similarly, is owner and director of a company named Atamai Services Ltd, described the same way, and director of another business consultant company Ārahi Consulting Ltd that's owned by his wife Dot Jones.
All three consulting businesses were established between March and May 2021, after New Zealand First was voted out of Parliament in 2020 – and just a month before the pair announced they'd run for re-election in the 2023 general election.
Jones also has a 30-year-old property company named Castlerigg Holdings Ltd. Before he was first elected to Parliament as a Labour Party, in 2005, he disclosed seven housing deals that Castlerigg had done with the Housing NZ Corporation, that had sparked the ire of some residents in Far North communities.