Michael Wood stood down as transport minister by prime minister Chris Hipkins
Michael Wood stood down as transport minister by prime minister Chris Hipkins

The BulletinJune 7, 2023

Why Wood was grounded and the PM’s battle for clear air

Michael Wood stood down as transport minister by prime minister Chris Hipkins
Michael Wood stood down as transport minister by prime minister Chris Hipkins

Michael Wood got parked as transport minister yesterday, his explanation about not selling airport shares found wanting. He’s the fifth minister to cause the prime minister problems since January, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Wood asked six times to sell shares

Following prime minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to stand Michael Wood down as transport minister after he failed to declare his shares in Auckland airport, it was revealed yesterday Wood had been asked about six times by the Cabinet Office since the end of 2020 to sell the shares. Stuff’s Luke Malpass runs us through the various ministers that have caused Hipkins a few headaches (now including Wood) and makes the observation that Hipkins is dealing with an “inherited” government — “with its people, culture and a post-pandemic tiredness.” There’s something quite human and reasonable in that observation but it might also be fair to ask the non-ministerial person on the street who is also working long hours and dealing with life admin what they think the consequences what be if they were asked to do something six times as a requirement of their job and failed to do it. Mourning the now-dormant Beehive Letters Twitter account, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder revived the old format, writing:
“Cabinet Office to Michael Wood
RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Those airport shares…”

Hipkins not given heads up about share issue until Monday night

As Newsroom’s Jo Moir details, Wood’s office was asked to respond to questions about the shares from the Herald on Thursday morning. Hipkins was made aware on Monday night before the story was published in the Herald yesterday morning. Moir writes that the incident reveals that Hipkins “still has staff and ministers who think time isn’t of the essence when there’s been a political stuff-up, and Hipkins should be deeply concerned by that four months out from an election when every little error can be quickly turned into a scandal.” The Herald’s Thomas Coughlan notes (paywalled) that ministerial scandals seldom lose elections and Wood’s error is sloppy but Hipkins made the right move standing him down.

Wood declined aerodrome’s application for airport authority status while owning shares in Auckland airport

Coughlan also reports this morning that Wood declined North Shore Aerodrome’s application for airport authority status while he owned shares in Auckland Airport, a potential competitor. Transport officials recommended the small Dairy Flat airfield get airport authority status in March 2021. As Coughlan notes, this isn’t necessarily a question about Wood’s shareholding influencing his decisions here, but one of perception. National’s Paul Goldsmith says Wood should have recused himself from the decision. Hikpins would not give his view on whether Wood should have recused himself from the decision saying he wants “the facts before providing an opinion.”

Proposal to sell council shares in airport goes to vote tomorrow

The issue of Auckland airport shares is obviously highly topical, with more at stake than Wood’s ministerial career. Tomorrow, Auckland mayor Wayne Brown’s proposal to sell the Auckland Council’s shares in Auckland airport goes to a vote. It’s that component that has seen Wood’s wife, Julie Fairey pulled into this. Fairey is a first-term Auckland councillor and she has now had to correct a statement about her and her husband’s role in a trust owning shares in Auckland airport. Fairey says pending advice from the Office of the Auditor General in relation to councillors who may have shareholdings in the airport, directly or indirectly, “I will follow accordingly regarding my participation in the coming Annual Budget vote”. On the issue of the share sale, I highly recommend BusinessDesk’s Pattrick Smellie’s column (paywalled). Smellie writes that “Wayne Brown’s crazy uncle routine is obscuring the fact that he’s got a very strong case in favour of selling the 18% share of Auckland international airport that Auckland council owns.”

Keep going!