Michael Cullen (politician)

Sir Michael John Cullen KNZM (born 5 February 1945) is a former New Zealand politician. He served as Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, also Minister of Finance, Minister of Tertiary Education, and Attorney-General. He was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1996 until November 2008, when he resigned following a defeat in the general election. He resigned from Parliament in April 2009, to become the deputy chairman of New Zealand Post from 1 November 2009[1] and chairman from 1 November 2010.

Sir Michael Cullen

Official portrait of Cullen, 2008
40th Minister of Finance
In office
10 December 1999  19 November 2008
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byBill Birch
Succeeded byBill English
16th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
15 August 2002  19 November 2008
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byJim Anderton
Succeeded byBill English
30th Attorney-General of New Zealand
In office
28 February 2005  19 October 2005
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byMargaret Wilson
Succeeded byDavid Parker
In office
21 March 2006  19 November 2008
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byDavid Parker
Succeeded byChris Finlayson
4th Treasurer of New Zealand
In office
10 December 1999  15 August 2002
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded byBill English
Succeeded byPosition Abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for St Kilda
In office
Preceded byBill Fraser
Succeeded bySeat Abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Dunedin South
In office
Preceded bySeat Established
Succeeded byDavid Benson-Pope
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Labour Party List
In office
1999  29 April 2009
Succeeded byDamien O'Connor
Chair of New Zealand Post
In office
1 November 2010  1 November 2016
Prime MinisterJohn Key
Preceded byJim Bolger
Succeeded byJane Taylor
Personal details
Born (1945-02-05) 5 February 1945
London, England
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Anne Fraser
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Canterbury (MA)
University of Edinburgh (PhD)
ThesisSocial statistics in Britain 1830–852 (1971)
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Otago

Early life

Born in London, Cullen emigrated to New Zealand while young. He attended secondary school at Christ's College in Christchurch, and achieved an MA in history at the University of Canterbury. Receiving a Commonwealth Scholarship he then gained a PhD in social and economic history from the University of Edinburgh.[2] From 1971 to 1981 he was a lecturer at the University of Otago, with a term as a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University from 1975 to 1976.[3] On 16 December 2009, he received an honorary LLD from the University of Otago in recognition of "his contributions as an Otago academic and as a respected and highly influential politician".[4]

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
19811984 40th St Kilda Labour
19841987 41st St Kilda Labour
19871990 42nd St Kilda Labour
19901993 43rd St Kilda Labour
19931996 44th St Kilda Labour
19961999 45th Dunedin South 2 Labour
19992002 46th List 2 Labour
20022005 47th List 2 Labour
20052008 48th List 2 Labour
20082009 49th List 2 Labour

Cullen joined the Labour Party in 1974, and served on the party's Executive and Council between 1976 and 1981. In 1981 he was elected MP for the Dunedin electorate of St Kilda.

Fourth Labour Government

When Labour entered government in 1984, Cullen became Senior Whip. Due to his knowledge of economics, Cullen became increasingly involved in the disputes surrounding the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, who supported the liberalisation of trade and the sale of state assets plus deep tax cuts. These goals, which were against traditional Labour policies, angered both party members and the public. When the Prime Minister, David Lange, attempted to limit the influence Douglas had on the government's direction, Cullen became involved on Lange's side. After Labour's re-election in 1987, Cullen was made Associate Minister of Finance (an attempt by Lange to provide an anti-reform counterbalance to the radical Douglas) and Minister of Social Welfare.

Eventually, Douglas was forced to resign, but a month later the political controversies around the dispute prompted the resignation of Lange himself. Douglas was succeeded as Finance Minister by David Caygill, one of his allies (albeit a considerably less radical one). Cullen was made Associate Minister of Health, in an attempt reduce the effect of reforms on that sector.


When Labour lost the 1990 election – attributed to public anger at Douglas' reforms, and disarray within the Labour Party – Cullen returned to being Labour's spokesperson on social welfare. The following year, he replaced David Caygill as the party's chief finance spokesperson. When Caygill retired from politics in 1996 Cullen took the deputy leader's post unopposed as well.[5] Before Labour's position in the polls improved, Cullen was also involved in an attempt to oust Helen Clark as party leader, which was not successful. Cullen has claimed to be happy with his position as second, saying that in terms of personality, he is "a number two sort of person". Many commentators agree, believing that Cullen's strength lies more in administration than leadership.

On 26 August 1999, Cullen was named by the Speaker Doug Kidd for saying that the National Member Max Bradford had lied, and that he was a "stooge" of the Employers Federation.[6]

Fifth Labour Government

Labour's electoral victory in 1999 resulted in Cullen becoming Minister of Finance. After the 2002 election, the electoral support for Labour's junior coalition partner (the Progressive Party) was not sufficient to justify its leader holding the Deputy Prime Minister position, resulting in Michael Cullen replacing Jim Anderton as Deputy Prime Minister.

In 2005 Helen Clark appointed Cullen to the post of Attorney-General following the election of Margaret Wilson as Speaker of the House. His appointment became controversial because of his non-legal background (only one other non-lawyer had previously held the post) and because of his previous criticisms of the judiciary, including of the Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.[7][8] His term in the position ended following the 2005 general election. However, with the resignation of David Parker in March 2006, Cullen took over the position again.

He had a reputation as one of the Labour Party's best parliamentary debaters, and is known for his sometimes "acerbic" sense of humour.

Budget 2006

Cullen presented his seventh budget in 2006. Cullen's guiding principle was, he stated, "The fool who spends on the upturn will find himself broke on the downturn".[9]

Budget 2007

Labour's eighth budget in 2007 reduced company tax from 33% to 30%[10] and introduced a 15% research and development tax credit.[10] It also made a number of changes to the KiwiSaver scheme.[11]

Budget 2008

The New Zealand economy entered recession in December 2007.[12] Cullen's final budget was delivered in this context in May 2008; it reduced income tax on the first $9,500 earned from 15% to 12.5%,[13] and the company tax rate from 30% to 29%.[13]


The day after the defeat of Labour in the 2008 general elections and Helen Clark's resignation as party leader, Cullen announced his resignation as deputy leader of the Labour Party.[14] When he resigned from Parliament in 2009 he was replaced as an MP from the party list by Damien O'Connor.

Political views

Cullen identifies as a social democrat.[15]

In 2004 Cullen declared his support for the monarchy of New Zealand, describing himself as "a sort of token monarchist in the Cabinet these days".[16] However, in 2010 he repudiated that stance, taking the view that New Zealand should move towards a republic once the Queen's reign ends.[17]

Cullen voted in favour of the third reading of the Civil Union Bill 2004, which legalised civil unions in New Zealand.[18]

Post politics

After leaving parliament, Cullen held a number of roles on the New Zealand civil service, including serving on the Tax Working Group[19] and chairing the Earthquake Commission.[20]

Honours and awards

In 1990, Cullen was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal.[21] In the 2012 Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours, Cullen was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.[22]


  1. "Cullen leaves politics for NZ Post role". The New Zealand Herald. 7 April 2009.
  2. J., Cullen, M. (1971). "Social statistics in Britain 1830 - 1852". hdl:1842/16371. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "Hon Dr Michael Cullen". New Zealand Parliament. Archived from the original on 1 November 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  4. "Otago to confer honorary degrees on Michael Cullen, Trevor Scott". University of Otago. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  5. Kirk, Jeremy (12 June 1996). "Clark secure as rebels pledge fealty; Cullen picked as Caygill quits". The Press.
  6. Hansard. 579. New Zealand Parliament. 1999. p. 1077.
  7. "Richard Worth: Cullen appointment degrades office of Attorney-General". The New Zealand Herald. 5 January 2005. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  8. Noted. "Court marshal - The Listener". Noted. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  9. "Government announces $1.3b boost for transport". The New Zealand Herald. 18 May 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  10. "Budget 2007 tax announcements". IRD. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  11. "KiwiSaver Savers Fact Sheet Q&A" (PDF). IRD. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  12. "How bad is the Current Recession? Labour Market Downturns since the 1960s". Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Archived from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  13. "Budget 2008 - Tax Changes". 22 May 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  14. "Cullen resigns after election defeat". The New Zealand Herald. 9 November 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2008.
  15. Cullen, Michael (10 December 2012). "The Political Economy of Long Term Fiscal planning from a Social Democratic Perspective" (PDF). Affording Our Future Conference. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  16. Daily Hansard: Clerk of the House of Representatives. Clerk of the House of Representatives. 16 December 2004.
  17. "Cullen: New Zealand should be republic". NZ Herald. Herald on Sunday. 29 August 2010. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  18. "Civil Unions Act". New Zealand Parliamentary Conscience Votes Database. 2004. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  19. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/117827804/smokers-may-catch-a-break-as-nz-first-opposes-last-of-10-automatic-tax-hikes
  20. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/117406840/earthquake-commission-says-sorry-for-canterbury-earthquake-claims-failures
  21. Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  22. "The Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Bill Fraser
Member of Parliament for St Kilda
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Dunedin South
Succeeded by
David Benson-Pope
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Anderton
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Bill English
Preceded by
Bill Birch
Minister of Finance
Preceded by
Margaret Wilson
Succeeded by
David Parker
Preceded by
David Parker
Succeeded by
Chris Finlayson
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Caygill
Deputy Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party
Succeeded by
Annette King
Preceded by
Jonathan Hunt
Senior Whip of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Margaret Austin
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Helen Clark
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Jim Anderton
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