Michael Wood shares shambles: Jacinda Ardern previously aware of shareholding, was once told he had got rid of them

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her office were informed on three occasions of Michael Wood's shares in Auckland Airport, Labour's Kelvin Davis says.

In one instance, Ardern was told Wood had divested his shares, something that turned out not to be true. Wood didn't sell the shares until Thursday morning.

Current Prime Minister Chris Hipkins wasn't aware of the shares until recently, however. He said on Thursday that the Cabinet Secretary has "acknowledged it probably should have been flagged up directly to me".

Under questioning in the House by National's Nicola Willis on Thursday, Davis confirmed Ardern had been told about Wood's shareholding.

"I am advised that the previous Prime Minister was informed that Honorable Michael Wood was in the process of divesting shares in Auckland Airport and Contact Energy as part of the annual reviews of ministerial interest in November 2021 and November 2022," said Davis.

"She was also informed he had divested his shares in March 2021. However, this was incorrect advice."

In February 2022, Davis said Ardern's Chief of Staff was informed by the Cabinet Office that it had provided advice to Wood about divesting the shares and the minister said he was in the process of doing so.

Davis said there is "no question" that Wood should have sold the shares. 

"I'm not going to defend his failure to do it when told. He should have followed the advice and he accepts that," said Davis.

Later during Question Time, ACT leader David Seymour grilled Davis, asking how New Zealanders could trust the Government given it was known by several people that Wood held the shares and nothing was done "about this blatant conflict of interest".

Davis replied by saying that based on the advice Ardern was given, she "would have assumed that the matter was in hand". 

The acknowledgement that the previous Prime Minister knew of the shares comes after Hipkins told Parliament on Wednesday the Cabinet Office raised the shares with Wood on 12 occasions.

Hipkins on Thursday told media he couldn't understand why the shares weren't sold.

"Like everybody, I can't quite understand what has happened here. Michael is a hardworking, diligent, conscientious person. He is one of the people who does deal with the details, he does get across things," he said.

"I still don't quite understand how this has gone on for as long as it has and that is something Michael needs to reflect on and work his way through and make sure he is providing an explanation to people, including to me, about why that has happened."

The Prime Minister said the shares weren't flagged with him until recently.

"I think the Cabinet Secretary has acknowledged it probably should have been flagged up directly to me before now. I accept that. The Cabinet Office do an outstanding job here. Clearly, I would have liked to have had that info a little bit earlier. 

"Having said that, the responsibility rests with Michael Wood. If you look at the information that was provided to the previous Prime Minister and to her Chief of Staff, it did indicate that either he had sold them or was in the process of selling the shares as that was the information he provided and clearly that wasn't the case."

The share affair emerged this week when it came to light that Wood initially failed to declare his shares in Auckland Airport on Parliament's pecuniary interest register. He eventually declared these last year, but didn't initially correct previous registers.

He did tell the Cabinet Office when he became a minister. But the Cabinet Office was also under the impression Wood was divesting the shares.

The shares have got the Opposition up in arms as they argue they create a conflict of interest, especially because Wood held the Transport portfolio.

He was stood down from that on Tuesday while he resolved the conflicts.

Wood has previously said he started the process of selling the shares last year, but it got caught up by life admin. Wood said he accepts he has made an error and takes responsibility for it.

On Thursday afternoon, Wood confirmed he had now sold the shares, donated the full amount received, about $16,000, to charity, and corrected the previous pecuniary registers.

It follows Sir Maarten Wevers, the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, announcing that he was launching an inquiry into whether Wood has complied with his obligations to declare his interests. 

Hipkins said he wanted to see how that inquiry played out before returning Wood to the Transport Minister position.