It’s all going wrong for New Zealand’s prime minister Chris Hipkins. Hipkins’s laidback, convivial persona and managerial skills were seen as a welcome contrast after the loftier ambition but patchy results of his predecessor, Jacinda Ardern. But a series of political scandals and blunders means Kiwis are rapidly tiring of their leader.
The latest trouble involves transport minister Michael Wood, who has been ‘stood down’ after he failed to declare shares in Auckland airport when he became an MP. Hipkins described Wood’s ownership of the stock while he was regulating the aviation industry as ‘not acceptable.’
‘I’m not sure that Michael himself even has a really good explanation for that,’ the PM said. ‘It would simply be one of those life admin tasks that he doesn’t seem to have gotten around to.’
Wood himself eventually shared light on the nature of that ‘life-admin task’.
‘I needed information back from the share register that didn’t arrive, I think because they had an old email address and, in the reality of the fairly busy life that I have, I didn’t get back to it,’ Wood said.
For a senior member of a left-leaning, social-democratic party to say he hadn’t found time to deal with such a matter hardly seems ideal.
Wood was only ‘stood down’, rather than resigning or being sacked. As a result, he has kept his workplace relations and minister for Auckland portfolios. Hipkins said Wood retained his confidence for now, describing the minister as ‘hardworking and conscientious’. But this scandal is far from over.
National party leader Christopher Luxon said the situation with Wood speaks to Hipkins’ ‘weak leadership’. ‘He hasn’t got his team gripped up,’ he said. Leader of the libertarian Act party, David Seymour, said Wood should not be allowed to continue on as a minister, implying, rather grandly, that there might potentially be global implications:
‘If Chris Hipkins keeps Michael Wood as a minister, he is telling every New Zealander, and the world, that the government may be working for its public interest, or perhaps for its members’ private interests.