Michael Wood's shares issues 'damaged his own standing', 'cast shadow' over public's trust in MPs, report finds

Former Labour minister Michael Wood's inadequate management of his shares not only "damaged his own standing", but "cast a shadow" over the "trust and confidence" the public is entitled to expect they can have in MPs, a new report says.

Wood was referred to Parliament's powerful Privileges Committee on Tuesday after the release of Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests Sir Maarten Wevers' report into whether the Labour MP complied with his obligations to declare his interests. 

The inquiry found Wood lacked engagement in the pecuniary interests process, demonstrated an "incomplete execution" of responsibilities, and showed a "worrying and ongoing lack of awareness" about the need to correct errors in records.

Sir Maarten began looking into the issue after it emerged Wood initially failed to declare on Parliament's register that he held shares in Auckland Airport. While he eventually declared these appropriately, he didn't quickly correct previous records. 

Separately, the Cabinet Office was under the impression that Wood had been in the process of divesting the shares, but this didn't happen until after news of Wood's shares broke. 

It later came to light that there were additional shareholdings in a trust that Wood is a trustee for, including in Chorus, Spark and the National Australia Bank. 

Wood told the Prime Minister these shares had been in a trust for a long time and he hadn't been aware of them until he looked back over his records. Chris Hipkins said he didn't accept this explanation.

The then-Immigration Minister resigned all his portfolios, while maintaining his financial interests never influenced his actions or "even crossed my mind".

Wood was back in Parliament on Tuesday for the first time since his resignation. He said the public could trust him, but acknowledged he has made a number of mistakes he has apologised for. 

He put this down to "ignorance at times and a lack of focus at making sure these things were done well".

Sir Maarten's report lays out how he went about his inquiry, including his correspondence and discussions with Wood. 

Throughout their conversations, Wood repeatedly made the point that he hadn't deliberately attempted to mislead anyone and that not declaring his shares had been an oversight. He hadn't been very engaged in the management of the trust, despite being trustee. It hadn't occurred to him initially that he needed to update his records.

However, Wood also couldn't recall ever seeking advice on doing his returns. Sir Maarten made the point that his office was available to offer such advice if requested.

Wood also couldn't recall whether he had read the section of Parliament's rules that refer to pecuniary interests.  

"I can’t recall that I’ve done that, but don’t think so," Wood replied.

Wood told Sir Maarten that it was his view that while preparing his returns and declaring his trusts, he was doing so correctly. 

At the end of a meeting in June between the Registrar and Wood in Auckland, Sir Maartens said it was his sense that Wood had breached the Standing Orders and Privilege of the House by not completing his returns as he should have, but that he would reflect on that. 

"Mr Wood responded by saying that 'other members too made mistakes'. I agreed but said that other members had proved to be much quicker in seeking advice from me as the Registrar if they were uncertain about a matter and in notifying their errors and omissions, as they were required to do.

"Mr Wood said he would complete his corrections as soon as possible. He had nothing further to say. He had 'fallen short'. But he had no malice underlying his actions and they were not deliberate."

When Sir Maarten arrived for that meeting, he found Wood had another person with him. 

"It turned out that the accompanying person was a senior partner in a leading law firm, something which I had not been made aware of before the meeting."

The Registrar eventually decided to allow the lawyer to stay in the room as an observer and adviser if Wood requested.

Sir Maarten did find that the matter involved a question of privilege and left it up to the Privileges Committee to determine if Wood had committed contempt. 

"The Inquiry revealed that the member had a lack of engagement with the pecuniary interests process over several years, and that he demonstrated an incomplete execution of his responsibilities to declare his pecuniary and other specified interests."

The Registrar said he had been "surprised, and concerned, that Wood was unable to say if he had read" material setting out MPs' obligations with declaring their interests and the principles and requirements of the register.

In light of that, Sir Maarten said it was difficult "to see how the member could have expected to fulfil the requirements he had". 

"Mr Wood also demonstrated a worrying and ongoing lack of awareness of the need to correct errors and omissions in his pecuniary interest returns and that the corrections should be notified in a timely manner."

Sir Maarten said MPs who become aware of errors or omissions should advise the Registrar of this as soon as practicable. 

"Mr Wood was very tardy in correcting his prior returns; his amendments to his previous returns were eventually finalised and published on 3 July 2023. The opportunity to correct previous returns is always available. It is disappointing that it has taken this much time, and this Inquiry, for the member to correct his previous returns."

The Registrar also noted that Wood had failed to submit his 2021 pecuniary interests within the required time frame. 

"The Inquiry reveals, to my mind, that Mr Wood did not turn his mind to his interests as he should have. In so doing, he has damaged his own standing as a member and has also cast a shadow over the entire Register, and the trust and confidence that the public are entitled to expect they can have in their elected representatives."

Speaking to media earlier on Tuesday, Wood acknowledged he had made a "real error". 

"I've apologized for that and I've spent the last period putting those things right. I feel I have made a real error here and I have obviously paid a cost for that… there were a number of errors."

He confirmed he would stand again in Mt Roskill. 

"I spent the last few weeks in Mt Roskill School, spending a lot of time on the ground with the community. There are a lot of important issues there and I want to get on with helping people with those as part of the Labour Government."

People in his community had said, "Look you silly goose you got this wrong, you need to sort these things out, get out and get back and get focused on the issues", he said. That's what he was doing, Wood said.

He said he would like to be a minister again.

Wood is the third MP this year to be referred to the Privileges Committee. His Labour and former ministerial colleague, Jan Tinetti, was found not guilty of contempt over her delay to correct an inaccurate statement made in Parliament, but was forced to apologise. 

ACT MP Simon Court has also been referred for making public statements about something that happened in a closed Select Committee session.