Councillors will vote on Auckland’s proposed budget for 2023/24 and whether to sell its shares in Auckland airport today, while an axe hangs over Michael Wood’s career for not selling his, 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 not felled but on shaky ground
Never has owning shares in an airport been so politically fraught. First, let’s cover off where Michael Wood currently stands. Questioning in the House by National’s Nicola Willis yesterday yielded an updated tally of the number of times Wood had been asked by the cabinet office to sell his Auckland airport shares (12). What started as a line of questioning on pecuniary interests from National’s Paul Goldsmith is now last chance saloon for Wood and the question mark that hangs over his career is leading both the front pages of The Herald and The Post this morning. BusinessDesk’s Dileepa Fonseka reports (paywalled) that prime minister Chris Hipkins is frustrated the cabinet office did not warn him during the cabinet reshuffle about Wood’s repeated failure to sell his shares. I am going to hand the last word on this (for now) to Emily Writes who has some handy tips based on her experience as a parent on getting someone (a child, Wood) to do something after they have failed to do it despite being asked multiple times.
Auckland councillors to vote on proposed budget today
We move onto the other Auckland airport shares story now — the question of whether or not Auckland councillors will vote today to support Wayne Brown’s proposed budget and plan to sell the council’s stake in Auckland airport. Brown wants to sell the shareholding to help address a $325m budget shortfall. The Herald’s Bernard Orsman reports that if Brown can offload the airport shares, household rates in Auckland will rise by 6.7%. If not, they could rise by 9.8%. Brown came out a month ago discussing a 22.5% increase to average rates. That figure had officials scratching their heads.
Partial sale of shares could be compromise
It’s understood Brown doesn’t have majority support for selling the shares and as Newsroom’s Matthew Scott reported yesterday, a partial sale of the shares is one of the compromise options on the table. This morning Scott reports that almost a quarter of the city’s governing body have indicated they are undecided or want to explore more options than the current all-or-nothing settings. Slightly complicating matters and related to the fall-out around Wood not selling his shares, is the matter of whether two councillors could be prevented from voting. Councillor Chris Darby joined Wood’s wife Julie Fairey yesterday in updating declarations of interest to show that their spouses held shares in Auckland airport. Auckland council’s Phil Wilson said whether share ownership created a conflict of interest could “only be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
Iwi offer Brown an alternative
Iwi put another option on the table, with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei repeating an offer they’ve made to successive mayors: sell them the port land that was taken without the iwi’s consent. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chairman Ngarimu Blair said the iwi “have made it clear to successive Auckland mayors that we are open, willing and able to purchase council assets it is selling, such as the Ports of Auckland.” Blair says tangata whenua coupled with a national investor like the Super Fund were obvious potential investors who would ensure the sold asset remained in the control of Aotearoa New Zealand-based owners.