Last month, Key lied when he was asked whether he had more Tranzrail shares, over which he had failed to declare his conflict of interest. On Sunday, it was revealed on The Standard that Key had also held shares in Fletcher Challenge Forests, which was campaigning for the Government to buy the rails off Tranzrail, at the same time as he was using his powers as an MP to gain information on the prospects for that sale. He didn’t reveal that conflict of interest, either. But Key wasn’t the only Nat breaking the rules.
In between 2002 and 2005, Gerry Brownlee asked numerous written and oral questions, and gave numerous speeches about Contact Energy, and about government policy that relates to Contact Energy’s share price. He often criticised policies that would reduce Contact’s profitability – environmental standards, Kyoto, the establishment of the Electricity Commission – and asked questions on specific Contact projects.
Here is an example from 2002 of just one of the instances in which Brownlee used his powers as an MP to obtain information on Contact Energy:
Gerry Brownlee: In the light of that answer, why has Contact Energy put on hold its combined-cycle gas plant planned for Otahuhu [Hansard,8 Oct, 2002]
Here is another from 2003
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the Government is considering establishing a systems operator who will buy and sell all generated electricity, doing away with the market and destroying all incentives for investment in new generation that we desperately need?
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that similar comments from the Prime Minister last week wiped millions of dollars off the capital value of Contact Energy; can he tell us whether he has discussed those threats with the Minister for State Owned Enterprises; and can he also tell us how bringing generators to their knees helps the current crisis?
He seems a little upset about the drop in Contact’s share price, doesn’t he? Well he might, because Gerry Brownlee was a Contact shareholder; he had a financial interest in Contact’s performance and share price. In none of the instances I’ve seen where Brownlee refers to Contact or its interests does he reveal he is a shareholder. He first made it public when the Pecuniary Interests Register came into force in 2006. Prior to that, he did not declare his conflict of interest as he was required to do, even as he used his privileges as an MP to obtain information that gave him special information on the value of those shares.
I discovered Brownlee’s shareholding while examining the share registers of eight New Zealand companies. My primary purpose was to ascertain whether John Key had any holdings in those companies (more on those holdings later); I only checked whether Brownlee has a holding in Contact on a whim. So what are the odds that there are not more, undiscovered, conflicts of interest that the Nats have kept secret?
As with the secret agenda tapes, what we are seeing here is almost certainly just a small snapshot of the full picture. Even more concerning than the secret conflicts of interest that have been discovered is the knowledge that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
[Update: Brownlee’s shares disappear in 2006, when he creates a family trust. Presumably, the shares went into the trust. Parliamentary procedure expert Idiot/Savant argues that, while listing an interest in the pecuniary interests register (as Brownlee has done with his trust) removes the need to reveal conflicts of interest under SO166, a conflict arising from assets within a trust that are not named in the register still needs to be revealed. To put it bluntly, if Brownlee stills owns the shares in his family trust, he still needs to reveal the conflict of interest notwithstanding that he has registered his trust.]