Michael Cullen (politician)

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The Honourable
Sir Michael Cullen
Michael Cullen.jpg
Cullen in 2007
40th Minister of Finance
In office
5 December 1999 – 19 November 2008
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Bill Birch
Succeeded by Bill English
Constituency None (list, formerly St. Kilda)
16th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
15 August 2002 – 19 November 2008
Prime Minister Helen Clark
Preceded by Jim Anderton
Succeeded by Bill English
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for St Kilda
In office
Preceded by William Fraser
Succeeded by Seat Abolished
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Dunedin South
In office
Preceded by Seat Established
Succeeded by David Benson-Pope
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Labour Party List
In office
1999 – 29 April 2009
Succeeded by Damien O'Connor
Personal details
Born (1945-02-05) 5 February 1945 (age 69)
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Anne Fraser
Profession Lecturer

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.

Early life[edit]

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 Canterbury University. Receiving a Commonwealth Scholarship he then gained a PhD in social and economic history from the University of Edinburgh. From 1971 to 1981 he was a lecturer at Otago University, with a term as a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University from 1975 to 1976.[2] 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".[3]


In the 2012 Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List, Cullen was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.[4]

Member of Parliament[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
1981–1984 40th St Kilda Labour
1984–1987 41st St Kilda Labour
1987–1990 42nd St Kilda Labour
1990–1993 43rd St Kilda Labour
1993–1996 44th St Kilda Labour
1996–1999 45th Dunedin South 2 Labour
1999–2002 46th List 2 Labour
2002–2005 47th List 2 Labour
2005–2008 48th List 2 Labour
2008–2009 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[edit]

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 (an attempt to limit the impact of the reforms in that area)[citation needed].

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, again to reduce the effect of reforms on that sector.


When Labour lost the 1990 election (something attributed by many people 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 as well. 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. The two do not appear to bear each other any resentment, however. 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.[citation needed]

Fifth Labour Government[edit]

Cullen delivering the 2008 budget press conference.

Labour's electoral victory in 1999 resulted in Cullen becoming Minister of Finance. After the 2002 election, the size of Labour's junior coalition partner was not sufficient to justify its leader holding the Deputy Prime Minister position, resulting in Jim Anderton being replaced as Deputy Prime Minister by Michael Cullen.

In 2004 Cullen declared his support for the monarchy of New Zealand, he was "a sort of token monarchist in the Cabinet these days."[5] However, in 2010 he repudiated that stance, taking the view that New Zealand should move towards a republic once the Queen's reign ends.[6]

In 2005 Cullen was appointed Attorney-General, following the election of Margaret Wilson as Speaker of the House. His appointment was controversial because of his non-legal background (he was only the second non-lawyer to hold the post) and because of his previous criticisms of the judiciary, including the Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias. 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.

When Cullen was first appointed Minister of Finance, many parts of the business community were concerned that he would adopt unrealistic positions driven by his political views. Slowly, however, the business world lost much of its fear of him, and most people conceded that he was a competent administrator. Viewed as secure in his role as deputy prime minister, he was not thought of as a likely contender as a possible future replacement for prime minister Helen Clark.[citation needed] He was considered to be one of the Labour Party's best parliamentary debaters, and is known for his sometimes "acerbic" sense of humour.

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.[7] When he resigned from Parliament in 2009 he was replaced from the party list by Damien O'Connor.


  1. ^ "Cullen leaves politics for NZ Post role". The New Zealand Herald. 7 April 2009. 
  2. ^ "Hon Dr Michael Cullen". New Zealand Parliament. Archived from the original on 1 November 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007. 
  3. ^ "Otago to confer honorary degrees on Michael Cullen, Trevor Scott". University of Otago. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  4. ^ "The Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Daily Hansard: Clerk of the House of Representatives. Clerk of the House of Representatives. 16 December 2004. 
  6. ^ "Cullen: New Zealand should be republic". Herald on Sunday. 29 August 2010. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  7. ^ "Cullen resigns after election defeat". The New Zealand Herald. 9 November 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2008. 

External links[edit]

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
Bill Birch
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Bill English
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
Government offices
Preceded by
Jim Anderton
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Bill English