Wood You Believe It!
The Latest Scandal.
How many of you think Michael Wood is corrupt? I don’t mean whether he broke the rules, he did, but whether he’s acted in a way that could see him personally gain?
Probably not a lot. I don’t think even the MPs and media people demanding his immediate crucifixion think that. They’re just pleased to have another scandal that fits the narrative they’re pushing - Labour are out of control, and we should have a snap election.
I heard Paul Goldsmith interviewed on this when it first broke. He was very excited, and he harrumphed and gobbled like a disapproving Turkey. There wasn’t much information publicly available at that point, just that the Minister had bought some Auckland Airport shares as a teenager, which he thought were in a family trust. Shares he hadn’t declared as early as he should have, but did so at the start of last year.
It seemed like a bit of a storm in a teacup, perhaps what Goldsmith might refer to an Espresso as. The sacrificial lamb of Epsom dithered, he didn’t seem to want to pronounce sentence based on so little but when pushed by the interviewer he did say he thought Michael Wood should be fired. This was the bit that took my interest, you could almost hear Goldsmith’s internal dialogue.
Clearly he knew more about the case, this had all the hallmarks of a drip drip drip scandal from National. One where each time there’s an acknowledgement a mistake has been made, an apology issued, more damaging information comes to light. The new information might be quite minor, but coming after an assurance that all was in the open and there was nothing else, as we saw with Stuart Nash, it becomes unsustainable and the person has to go.
Sure enough, in coming days we’ve seen further information, culminating in the revelation that Wood had been advised to sell the shares, not once, not twice - but twelve times, each being excruciatingly listed in Parliament by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins under questioning.
An absurd number. A number that is just too high. I’m not sure what the threshold of “too high” is - maybe four? Whatever most people think it is, it certainly is not twelve!
The whole thing is absurd. No one, not even Paul Goldsmith, actually believes that Wood is corrupt. It is simply too far fetched that decades ago he bough 1,500 shares and is now making decisions, such as whether to have a second airport in Auckland, in his portfolio so as to benefit from the ownership of that tiny number of shares.
I think the actual answer is more likely that the Minister was very busy and some how this task, which was probably viewed as low priority admin, fell off the radar. Worst case he’s been stubborn and naive, retaining ownership of shares he should have divested himself from long ago.
It is right that we should hold Ministers and MPs to a high standard in their declarations, particular if they have any authority in the related portfolio, or are on related committees, etc. But this is starting to feel like a bit of a McCarthy era witch hunt.
“Do you now, or have you ever owned shares in Auckland Airport?” This week we’ve seen two Auckland councillors move to declare or sell Airport shares before they also come to the attention of the inquisitors. Wayne Brown seems quite enthusiastic about divesting shares too, even those he doesn’t personally own.
It was interesting to see the view points of opposition MPs change. Yesterday morning for example David Seymour said of the matter “Sloppy and incompetent, but where’s the harm?” By the afternoon, presumably after a road to Damascus discovery of high moral standards, or more likely seeing how it was panning out in the media, he was saying “Nobody can trust a Government where the Minister making decisions for your business might be secretly investing in your competitor.” Good grief.
Nicola Willis on the other hand declared the matter to be “next level”. Please imagine I’m making a dry retching sound as I type this - possibly like the one you might be making. Willis compared Wood to a thirteen year old child, “Sometimes I have to ask him five or six times to pick his towel up off the floor but a dozen times, that is next level”. To be fair Willis does know a bit about having to clean up after people, she is after all Christopher Luxon’s deputy.
Of course the media are having a field day. The Herald’s Damien Venuto with this:
No Damien, they won’t. People are rather more concerned with the cost of living, crime, tax cuts, and healthcare. Yes the opposition and the media will run this as a scandal but actually most people, as John Key would have said, don’t care.
I recall the disappointment from Jenna Lynch at the announcement of the the most recent NewsHub poll. She seemed utterly bewildered that the scandals she’d been giving such emphasis to during the polling period, hadn’t seemed to have had an impact at all. Poor Jenna, can someone tell her real journalists don’t just repeat opposition taunts like “shambles” and turn them into headlines?
The problem for Jenna is that people become a bit jaded by these scandals. Each year there seem to be more and more of them and they seem to be over smaller and smaller things, things which only recently were hardly worth mentioning at all.
If you think Michael Wood buying 1500 shares as a teenager and not declaring them because he thought they were in a family trust was bad - wait until you hear about the guy that forgot to mention he owned anything at all!
In fairness to Christopher Luxon few of us probably understand what it’s like to have so much stuff to declare, it must be exhausting and easy to make errors.
A friend of mine joked over Luxon’s omission “Don't you hate it when you have so many assets and investments, that you lose track of which entity legally owns what, and forget to utilise the financial loop holes? Such a ghastly oversight. I bet the family accountant/portfolio manager got a caning for that one.”
I replied “I know right. Then you're looking down the back of the couch and you find seven, eight, houses you'd forgotten all about!”
Of course Luxon isn’t a Minister like Michael Wood, but he does want to be Prime Minister which surely also demands a high level of scrutiny and transparency, a need to be squeaky clean. Like this guy:
You might remember the controversy over his ownership of rail shares.
Labour has accused John Key of lying over his ownership of Tranz Rail shares amid revelations the National Party leader failed to fully disclose his interests. Mr Key's interests became an issue earlier this year when Labour claimed a conflict of interest because he had asked parliamentary questions about the Government's planned buyback of the country's rail tracks while he still had a shareholding in the rail operator.
Despite his role at the time as National's associate transport spokesman, he did not disclose his shareholding. When Mr Key was questioned on the issue this year he said his family trust had held 30,000 shares in the company, but had sold them on June 9 and June 12, 2003.
But when pressed on the issue he admitted there were more shares."Actually maybe 100,000 from memory, sometimes 50,000, sometimes 100,000, yep," he said."Yeah, sorry, there was 100,000 in total." Mr Key said no one had questioned him previously on exactly how many shares he had owned.
That sounds a bit similar, maybe even a bit worse, than the current scandal. Yet people like Michael Wood accuser Paul Goldsmith were just fine with Key. I wonder what the difference is here? Just think, if we’d had the same standards and scrutiny demanded by National, ACT, and Newshub back then, as we do now - Key would never have been Prime Minister. Can you imagine that?
I’m not making excuses for Michael Wood. He should have bloody sold the shares when he was advised to. Failing to do so twelve times is a terrible look and a disastrous error for someone on the fast track to senior leadership. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
None of us, not even the sadly anticipated inquisitors, actually thinks this was corruption. People make mistakes and if we eliminate every person who has ever made an error it isn’t going to leave much.
A friend, Richelle, made the following comment - “So frustrating. Why didn’t he just sell his shares? The rules apply to everyone and this is not the distraction Labour needed. It should have been a victory week with primary teachers accepting an excellent step forward but was overshadowed by this because it gave the media the negative ammo they needed.”
That sums it up to me. Today we should be talking about primary teachers reaching an agreement, and saying well done to the union and to Minister Tinetti. But instead we’re talking about this, and it just seems so unimportant.
Nick's Kōrero seeks to provide a different voice. If you can afford to subscribe, your support for my work would be greatly appreciated.