Michael Wood shares debacle: Chris Hipkins previously told his MPs, ministers to follow rules on declaring interests

Chris Hipkins has revealed he previously told his MPs and ministers to make sure they were following the rules around declaring their interests after earlier standing down Michael Wood as Transport Minister once details about his shares in Auckland Airport emerged.

The Prime Minister said he's expressed his disappointment to Wood after it was revealed he has $13,000 in Auckland Airport shares and hadn't declared these with Parliament's pecuniary interest register. Wood eventually declared these appropriately last year, but didn't correct previous registers.

Wood said he did inform the Cabinet Office of the shares when he became a minister, but Hipkins said the Cabinet Office was also told Wood was selling his shares.

Wood said he'd accepted the Prime Minister's decision to stand him down while the conflicts are resolved. He also admitted he made a mistake and accepted the punishment.

"I think the decision the Prime Minister has made is the appropriate one," he told reporters. "I accept it with good grace. I made a mistake here. I accept that. That is on me and the appropriate thing that I do now is fix that."

At his post-Cabinet press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Hipkins said he had talked to his MPs and ministers earlier this year to ensure they were following the rules but is "disappointed" this wasn't actioned at the time.

"I am disappointed and I've certainly expressed my disappointment to Michael Wood," he told reporters.

The Cabinet Office interview process is relatively thorough, Hipkins explained, and ministers go through a series of questions around their assets, relationships, and potential conflicts on a regular basis. He then admitted that Wood was asked "probably somewhere around about half a dozen" times since the end of 2020 about whether he'd divested the Auckland Airport shares.

Wood had also told the Cabinet Office a number of times he was going to dispose of his shares, Hipkins said. Asked how he didn't get rid of shares despite it being brought up regularly, the Prime Minister put it down to "one of those life admin tasks" that Wood hadn't got around to.

"To be honest, I'm not really sure of the explanation there. I'm not sure if Michael himself has a really good explanation for that."

Wood earlier said he had been working 80 to 90 hours a week and selling the shares had "dropped off my radar".

But this wasn't a good enough response for Hipkins.

"I don't think that that's acceptable having indicated back in 2020 that he was intending to dispose of them - he should have done that."

The Prime Minister said he trusts that Wood has told him the full story. In order to return to his job as Minister of Transport, he said Wood "clearly" needs to sell the shares, but also ensure any issues around his pecuniary interests are dealt with. 

"Michael should have declared these shares on his register of pecuniary interests right the way through his time as a Member of Parliament, regardless of whether they're held in a trust or not."

Chris Hipkins and Michael Wood.
Chris Hipkins and Michael Wood. Photo credit: Getty Images

The National Party earlier argued it was a "clear conflict of interest" for the Minister of Transport to hold the shares and his position "may be untenable".

Leader Christopher Luxon said we were "discussing another Labour personnel issue, another scandal". The Government's had to deal with issues with other ministers like former Police Minister Stuart Nash, Education Minister Jan Tinetti, and the defection of Meka Whaitiri.

"I don't understand why Chris Hipkins has been so soft and weak," Luxon said.

The National leader said the Prime Minister should have acted when his office was told of the issue last week.

"We want a leader and a Prime Minister that's going to do the right thing, not wait until the media to actually make him do the right thing."

Hipkins said his office knew last week but he wasn't informed until Monday.

"I've expressed some dissatisfaction with them about the amount of time that it took," Hipkins said. "But ultimately, my office was informed, therefore, I accept responsibility for the fact that my office was told on Friday."

It was put to Hipkins that his Government looks shaky with a number of ministerial problems, but he said he didn't agree with that.

Kieran McAnulty is the acting Minister of Transport while Wood sorts out his conflict issues.