Conflict of interest allegations ‘defamatory’: Peters

Todd Stephenson
Todd Stephenson
ACT New Zealand leader David Seymour has vehemently denied any wrongdoing by his Southland list MP Todd Stephenson in his role as a parliamentary private secretary.

Mr Stephenson, who was first elected to Parliament last year, is Southland-born and raised but spent many years living in Australia working in the pharmaceuticals industry.

The annual Register of MPs’ pecuniary and other specified interests was published by Parliament earlier this week and disclosed that Mr Stephenson has shares in several companies, including several healthcare companies.

In Parliament yesterday, Labour deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni asked several questions of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who was answering on behalf of the absent Prime Minister, about Mr Stephenson’s shareholdings, and whether they raised a conflict of interest issue with his role as a private secretary.

That position involves a special responsibility for Mr Stephenson to advise Mr David Seymour — the associate health minister and with a designation to oversee drug-buying agency Pharmac — on Pharmac issues.

In Parliament, Ms Sepuloni asked how Mr Stephenson’s conflicts of interest were managed, if it was acceptable that the minister’s main way of expressing his views to Pharmac were drafted in part by a person who holds shares in pharmaceutical companies, and if it was a conflict of interest for Mr Stephenson to be at meetings with Pharmac.

"Will he maintain the standards that New Zealanders expect of their government and stand down Mr Stephenson from his role, or is he unwilling to challenge David Seymour’s exploitation of a loophole which allows a pharmaceutical industry plant to assist the minister responsible for Pharmac?" Ms Sepuloni said.

Mr Peters said that he rejected the premises on which Ms Sepuloni’s question was based.

"But let’s go further here. That questioner now made an allegation and without any evidence, any proof, in this House, and is defaming someone without any care for her responsibility."

Mr Stephenson’s pecuniary interests declaration records holdings in healthcare companies Chimeric Therapeutics, CSL Limited and Johnson & Johnson.

Mr Seymour said in a statement Mr Stephenson had declared his interests as per the rules.

"His role as Parliamentary Private Secretary does not grant him executive responsibilities or decision-making powers and Todd has abided by the description set out in the Cabinet Manual," he said.

"His knowledge of the sector is one of the many skill sets he brings to the role and that is why patient groups are excited to have someone of his expertise in Parliament. It would be odd to have someone in a role like this if they didn’t have a relevant skill set."