Tūhoe negotiator and ex-deputy PM Sir Michael Cullen dies

By Jessica Tyson
Photo source: Getty Images

Sir Michael Cullen, the former finance minister and Labour deputy prime minister during Helen Clark's government, has died from advanced lung cancer at age 76.

He notably created KiwiSaver and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. After leaving Parliament he helped negotiate Treaty settlements for Tūhoe and supported the successful election campaign of Labour MP Kiritapu Allan.

Allan said in a statement, Sir Michael was a "larger-than-life character as a politician, but as a friend and a mentor, he was a generous, witty, incisive, instinctive, humble man who created space for so many to live".

"When I first thought of running, Sir Michael and Anne wrapped around me and gave so much of their time, guidance and wisdom to me throughout my political journey. More recently, when we were both battling health issues, we shared the ways we were coping - continuing his mentoring on a whole other level that I’ll forever be grateful for."

The Negotiators, Episode 7, Sir Michael Cullen - October 2019

In a statement, the Labour Māori caucus said its members were saddened by the passing of Sir Michael.

"[He was] a true rangatira of the Labour Party, a friend, a staunch supporter of Labour East Coast, and a firm believer and deliverer on the ability of traditional Labour values to create a better, fairer Aotearoa."

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi acknowledged the guidance and support Sir Michael offered him as a candidate for the Labour Party in 2014 and continuing that support even as a Māori Party candidate in 2020.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sir Michael was intelligent, funny and kind, and had left a significant legacy for the country.

"Plenty of people will write plenty of things about his political legacy - it was vast. But it’s who he was as a person that I will miss the most. He was fiercely intelligent and hugely funny. But he was also incredibly kind. He never hid when he found politics difficult, or the trade-offs hard. He was human, and he was never afraid to show it."

He is survived by his wife, Anne Collins, four children and eight grandchildren.

Allan said, “Anne, Louise and Richard, Finn and Liam; Reuben and Heidi, Paige and Hunter; Imogen and Ben, Lulu and Willa; and Rebecca and Darren, Lucy and Tayla - we send you all so much love, and thank you for sharing Sir Michael with all of us.

“Moe mai ra e te rangatira, you were a giant in life, and through the legacy of your work, you will be remembered dearly by so many and live on in all of us. We will miss you so much, my friend.”