Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen has passed away

Publish Date
Thursday, 19 August 2021, 10:24PM
Photo / Doug Sherring

Photo / Doug Sherring

Sir Michael Cullen died last night in Whakatāne. He was 76.

In March 2020, Sir Michael announced that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

He was first elected in 1981 as MP for St Kilda and made deputy Labour leader in 1996.

He was Deputy Prime Minister to Helen Clark for six years from 2002, and he served for three terms as Finance Minister from 1999 to 2008.

Cullen retired from politics in 2009, after Labour was defeated by John Key's National Party at the 2008 election.

Cullen was put to use by both National and Labour governments after retiring from politics – as chairman of NZ Post, reviewing the intelligence agencies, and leading the Tax Working Group which recommended a capital gains tax.

He was knighted in the 2012 Queen's Birthday Honours.

Cullen was responsible for setting up the Superannuation Fund, dubbed the Cullen fund, which is designed to smooth out the costs of the state-provided pension for the baby boomer bulge. It currently stands at $58 billion.

He also established the Kiwisaver retirement savings scheme to which 3 million people belong.

And he introduced the Working for Families package for payments and tax credits for families with dependent children.

He was put in charge of responding to the 2003 Court of Appeal decision on the foreshore and seabed, which opened up the possibility of the Maori Land Court awarding freehold title in the foreshore and seabed.

He was also Social Welfare Minister in the Fourth Labour Government which split over Roger Douglas' reform agenda.

Cullen delivered nine Budgets from 2000 to 2008, and he claimed to have delivered nine surpluses. But the 2008 – 2009 year, which included part of the financial global crisis, ended in deficit and was effectively shared with his National successor, Bill English.

Cullen was always a strong supporter of socially liberal issues including homosexual law reform in 1986, and more recently he publicly advocated for David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill.

He and his first wife, Rowena, had two daughters. His second marriage was to Anne Collins, a former Labour MP.


This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.