Clark and Cullen on the Leadership

September 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Several people have wondered who Helen Clark and Michael Cullen will vote for (as party members they get a vote) in the leadership.

Helen Clark is hard to pick. Grant worked for her for many years. Cunliffe was her choice as successor to keep Goff out (if she won a 4th term).

I suspect on balance Clark will back Cunliffe. He has ministerial experience, and was her chosen successor. She also understands the importance of Auckland. She may well think that Grant also has time on his side – they may both end up as leaders at some stage.

Michael Cullen has endorsed Grant. That is not secret. What is less well known is his severe dislike of David Cunliffe. Just last week he joked at a book awards function that David Cunliffe could not be there to pick up a prize for his book “Learning to walk on water – what I learnt from Jesus of Nazereth, and what he learnt from me”.

The fact he would so openly diss Cunliffe, seems to hark back to the Cabinet days when it was too obvious Cunliffe wanted Cullen’s job.

However his dislike appears to be even greater than Trevor Mallard’s. A source overheard a conversation last week where Dr Cullen was reported to be more vitriolic about Cunliffe, than he was about, well anything.

So Clark and Cullen may be backing different candidates. It is a sign of how divided things are!

UPDATE: I understand that Dr Cullen is not standing on the sidelines like Helen, but is actively lobbying on behalf of Robertson. This is helping him with some members, but others resent figures from the past being involved.

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Which Ministers appointed themselves to CEO recruitment panels?

May 28th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Readers will recall the fuss over John Key making a phone call to Ian Fletcher informing him of the GCSB vacancy. Labour would have had you believe this was an unprecedented ministerial involvement.

As has happened in all the recent appointments that Labour has criticised, all were recommended by a panel of neutral civil servants.

This got me thinking. Has there even been an interview panel that didn’t include just neutral civil servants but a Minister?

It’s one thing to have the Minister sign off on an appointment, but do you want Ministers actually sitting on CEO interview panels? Wouldn’t that be far worse than merely making a phone call.

So I asked the State Services Commission if any Ministers in the last 14 years have sat on interview panels for state sector chief executives. They replied that this has happened on four occasions – in 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

What is disturbing about these ministerial membership of appointment panels is all the roles were ones of pivotal importance to our democratic institutions. They were:

  • 2000 – Margaret Wilson on interview panel for the Solicitor-General
  • 2004 – Trevor Mallard on interview panel for the State Services Commissioner
  • 2007 – Michael Cullen on interview panel for the Clerk of the House of Representatives
  • 2008 – David Parker on interview panel for the State Services Commissioner

So this puts it all into perspective – a phone call, vs actually sitting on the interview panel – which means you are effectively hand picking your preferred candidate.

Ministers should be consulted on recommendations and for some roles they make the final appointment. But i think it is generally undesirable for Ministers to sit on interview panels for state sector chief executives. It is rather hypocritical to complain about bad process in appointments, when they did far far worse themselves.

The OIA response is here – Scan-to-Me from 11-util2 ssc govt nz 2013-05-15 124921

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Cullen on the constitution

February 6th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Sir Michael Cullen writes in the NZ Herald:

It is no great secret that I am, by and large, a constitutional conservative, supportive of parliamentary supremacy, and therefore opposed to a written constitution which has the status of supreme law, not fussed about New Zealand continuing to be a constitutional monarchy, a little sceptical about how much of the burden of defining a nation the Treaty can bear, and generally holding the view that the onus of proof in relation to any proposed constitutional change lies with the proponents of that change.

I agree the onus of proof for constitutional change should lie with the proponents.

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Cullen on KiwiSaver and superannuation

December 12th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small reports:

The architect of KiwiSaver, former finance minister Sir Michael Cullen, is proposing a revamp of the scheme to help cut the long-term costs of superannuation to the Government.

Under his plan KiwiSaver would be made compulsory in 2016 and contributions would rise to 4 per cent for employees and 4 per cent for employers, followed by further increases to 6 per cent or 8 per cent for employers.

But half of a saver’s nest egg would have to be used to buy an annuity.

If that provided an income lower than the current superannuation formula, the state would top it up to the guaranteed retirement income.

“In effect this means that for many people the shift from state funding to private funding would result in half of their retirement KiwiSaver savings being income-tested away,” Sir Michael said.

This approach has some considerable merit. We have not adjusted superannuation policy o take account of KiwiSaver. I recall when KiwiSaver came in, the projections were that someone who earned the average wage would receive in retirement a higher income from KiwiSaver and NZ Super combined that they did when working. This is clearly not sustainable.

Labour’s proposal to lift the age from 65 to 67, while a step in the right direction, is just tinkering. What Cullen proposes would make a huge difference to the long-term financial sustainability of retirement savings.

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Treaty Settlements

December 6th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A few weeks ago I sent an OIA request to the Office of Treaty Settlements asking for the following information for each historic grievance negotiation and settlement.

While I (like most people) are not overly impressed by modern claims such as the Maori Council for ownership of water, I do believe that it is very important to have fair, full and final settlements over the historic grievances of the 1800s.  Getting these settled will allow most Iwi to focus on the future, rather than past grievances. Ngai Tahi is a great example of that.

I believe it is a win-win getting these settled faster (so long as full and final), rather than slower, as it is good for the Iwi and also good for the country to get them behind us.

There are five main steps in each treaty settlement. They are:

  • Terms of Negotiation agreed. This is not a particularly significant step. It is basically just saying this is who we are negotiating with, and what the issues are
  • Agreement in Principle.  This is arguably the most difficult step. It is the basis of the final settlement, and includes the quantum of reparation (note that is not always the most difficult issue though).
  • Initialling of draft deed of settlement. This is a near automatic step after the agreement in principle, and it is after this step that negotiators go back to Iwi members for ratification
  • Signing of final deed of settlement. This is also a very important step. At this stage, the agreement is final, subject to legislation.
  • Enabling legislation. This is near automatic also, and is just a matter of finding time on the legislative calendar normally.

Now we’ve had five Treaty Negotiations Ministers. I’ve colour coded the table below to show them. They are:

  • Doug Graham 1991 – 1999 in light blue.
  • Margaret Wilson 2000 – 2004 in red
  • Mark Burton 2005 – 2007 in light brown
  • Michael Cullen in 2008 in dark brown
  • Chris Finlayson from 2009 – 2012 in darker blue
As you can see Doug Graham started them off, and saw through the two largest ones of Ngai Tahu and Tainui, along with a few others in 1999.
Margaret Wilson in four years only managed five agreements, and finished off three of Graham’s.
Mark Burton did just two agreements in three years. So for seven years, there were just eight agreements in principle. At that rate we’d still be negotiating these in 2050!
Michael Cullen did a pretty good job of picking the pace up. He did 12 agreements in just one year!
And Chris Finlayson in four years has done 48 agreements or settlements. We won’t make the goal of having all settlements done by the end of 2014, but we’ll be pretty well advanced towards it.
Even those who are not fans of the settlements, should appreciate the benefits of getting them done sooner or quicker. No party in Parliament (from ACT to Mana) claims these should not happen. They will occur – it is just a matter of how fast, and for how much. I’ll do a separate post on the quantums, but they do not vary greatly by Government as there is a lot of care taken with internal relativity.
My thanks to OTS for the data on which I based the table.
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NZ Post

April 25th, 2012 at 2:34 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

NZ Post has warned 2012 is crunch time, with the state-owned enterprise needing hundreds of millions of dollars in capital for subsidiary Kiwibank as well as flexibility to cut store numbers and halt post delivery on some days.

I’ve always wondered if Kiwibank actually delivers a return on capital greater than the cost of capital. What would be very interesting is an analysis of Kiwibank’s profits since inception, compared to the cost of capital (Treasury bond rates). Ideally such an analysis should exclude profits from the bill payment service they operate, as that was operated by NZ Post before Kiwibank was set up.

A key element would be a review of the Deed of Understanding (DOU), which stipulates NZ Post must maintain six-day-a-week delivery to most of the 1.9 million “delivery points” and operate a network of no less than 880 outlets.

I’m okay with fewer delivery days and fewer stores.

However, mail volumes are in free fall. It had forecast a drop of 5 per cent a year as the long-term trend to electronic mail bit. But in the six months to the end of December 2011 the decline had steepened to 7 per cent; the fastest ever, “which may be the new norm”, Cullen said. “The trend will not reverse and cannot be ignored.”

it is a dying business model.

But while a cut to delivery days is not imminent, the NZ Post board is keen for planning to start. A shift to deliveries every second day could be on the table over the next two to three years. Cullen said the DOU, as it stood, limited the changes that could be made.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday would be fine. If anything is needed the next day you tend to courier it.

So far the NZ Post parent has poured $550m into the bank, but as its own profitability declines that is seen as unsustainable.

Again, an analysis of returns vs cost of capital would be very interesting. If Kiwibank’s profits do not exceed the cost of capital, then the taxpayer us effectively subsidising Kiwibank customers.

“Our preference would be for the Crown to inject capital, providing we are able to satisfy them that they will get a long-term return on that capital, which we believe they will, and that it fits with the Government’s overall economic strategy.”

One source of new capital could be the proceeds from partial asset sales.

That would be ironic. I’d love to see Labour complain about that.

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The Constitutional Advisory Panel

August 4th, 2011 at 1:18 pm by David Farrar

Bill English and Pita Sharples have announced the membership of the Constitutional Advisory Panel:

The Panel will be co-chaired by Emeritus Professor John Burrows and Sir Tipene O’Regan, of Ngāi Tahu.  The other members are:

  • Peter Chin
  • Deborah Coddington
  • Hon Dr Michael Cullen
  • Hon John Luxton
  • Bernice Mene
  • Dr Leonie Pihama
  • Hinurewa Poutu
  • Professor Linda Smith
  • Peter Tennent
  • Emeritus Professor Ranginui Walker

This will surprise some people but I think including Dr Cullen is a brilliant move. Not because I necessarily will agree with his views. But panels like these has a habit of producing worthy but useless reports which try to lay down principles for the perfect constitution, and they become door stops.

Dr Cullen’s presence (and others) should help ensure that the panel will actually come up with some proposed reforms which are actually achievable, if the public support them.

I hated Cullen’s appointment to NZ Post – partly because of the timing, but partly because National had fought several elections railing against his economic management, so giving him the chair of our biggest SEO was a slap in the face for many National supporters.

But a role like this one, I think is much more appropriate, and Dr Cullen will I think play a very useful role in it. The issues they are looking at include:

the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Māori representation, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.

Also pleased to see Deborah Coddington and John Luxton there. Again, a panel with nothing but academics would be less likely to succeed.

But academics are not bad per se, and Professor Burrows as a co-chair is also an inspired choice. He is widely respected, and has done some excellent work at the Law Commission. He has a lot of experience at taking complex issues, and turning them into specific proposed law changes.

Likewise Sir Tipene has a good track record of making things happen, and a necessary degree of pragmatism.

Peter Chin seems a solid choice and a former Mayor will have some good perspectives, as will Peter Tennent.

I don’t really know much about Bernice Mene (except that she was a great netballer) or Dr Pihama, Ms Poutu or Professor Smith. Dr Walker is more well known, and his inclusion is no surprise.

As a constitutional geek, I’m really pleased to see some important issues will be debated and discussed. I doubt I will like everything they recommend, or even most of it. But I definitely plan to be involved in the process, and will next year cover the issuees extensively on Kiwiblog.

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September 23rd, 2010 at 5:58 pm by David Farrar

The Government has announced:

At New Zealand Post, Hon Michael Cullen has been appointed chair from November 1.

Thanks National. Words are inadequate to describe how I feel. The closest sensation it reminds me of is a colonoscopy.

Cullen replaces Jim Bolger, so at least it means there won’t be any change in policy!

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The republic debate

September 2nd, 2010 at 11:34 am by David Farrar

About to hear from Michael Cullen and Dean Knight on republicanism. Dr Cullen described himself at morning tea as a “moderate monarchist” and not too far away from Dean Knight whom he called a “moderate republican”.

Jim Bolger is the Chairman. He has been talking for around five minutes so far. I should run a book on whether he will end up speaking for longer than the actual speakers :-)

Heh. Dean just said that after reading in the Herald on Sunday that Dr Cullen now supports NZ becoming a republic, he wondered if he should just sit down and claim victory. Jim Bolger retorted that instead he should just not read the Herald, which got good laughs. It seems Dr Cullen feels they mis-stated his position.

Dean advocates a minimal change republic. Promote the Governor-General from being the effective Head of State to the actual Head of State – but with the same powers.

The selection of the Head of State should not be hereditary, discriminatory and foreign, Dean said.

The GG is currently effectively appointed by the Prime Minister. Dean advocates that Parliament should approve any appointment by a super-majority.

In terms of the Treaty obligations, Dean states these have already been transferred from the British Crown and Govt to the NZ Government, and these would not be affected by a move to the republic.

Dr Cullen has said that the GG is indeed our effective head of state. He points out the unusually, the selection is purely by the Government of the day.

He rejects the notion that the Queen is foreign, and that being a monarchy means we are not independent. He says countries like Australia and he UK are not fully foreign, as other countries are. Also says Canada shows you can be regarded as absolutely independent yet they have kept the Queen.

Cullen says if no change is made, Charles will become King of New Zealand automatically when he become King of the UK, even though he will probably be 80 when it happens.

Cullen totally against Judges being able to strike down laws on the basis of supreme law. Will lead to highly politicised Judges. Says if the move to a republic is dependent on having a written constitution as supreme law, then both Charles and Williams will have happy reigns as Kings of New Zealand.

Says if NZ Head of State has executive powers, then elect at large. But if they have no executive powers is silly to have an election for it, as they will have nothing to run on. I agree.

One amusing observation made by Bolger is that he and Cullen are old sparring partners, but now are the Chair and Deputy Chair of NZ Post!

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A welcome u-turn from Dr Cullen

August 29th, 2010 at 10:17 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Prince Charles is strange and his father so insensitive and prejudiced that he could be a breakfast TV host, says New Zealand’s former deputy prime minister.

Michael Cullen’s comments, contained in notes for a speech he will make in Wellington this week, are bound to outrage supporters of the monarchy.

As a senior Cabinet minister, Cullen described himself as the Labour Government’s “token monarchist” and fought against any move for New Zealand to become a republic.

But, in a major about-turn at a constitution conference on Friday, he will publicly lay out a road map to becoming a republic when the Queen dies.

I’m pleased to see Dr Cullen leave the monarchist camp and join the republicans.

My motivations are not so much the personal characteristics of certain royals. They are:

  1. A republic would provide greater limitations on the role of the Prime Minister
  2. I believe our head of state should be a New Zealander
  3. Hereditary selection for a role is inferior to democratic selection
  4. A move to a republic will probably lead to a written constitution, which would generally be desirable
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Jevan Goulter vs Labour

April 20th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has blogged a summary of a 24 page story in Investigate, with a large number of allegations by a Jevan Goulter against various Labour MPs and others.

These are not anonymous allegations – Goulter is making them himself under his name. However that does not mean they are overly reliable, and are the gospel. In fact Ian Wishart himself concludes the article by saying:

As for the abuse of trust, did Labour abuse its trust in looking after a troubled 14 year old badly, or did Jevan Goulter abuse the trust of a political party who’d taken him under their wing?

At several points through the article, Wishart reveals that Goulter’s story is incorrect or exaggerated, and my personal take is that there is a lot of bragging there. It does not mean everything he has said is false, but I would caution people not to assume everything he has said is true.

Also in one section he says:

As for Phil Goff I probably had more to do with his daughter, who worked for a Government agency when Labour was in. Her name is Samantha. She was just stunning, she was beautiful when I met her, she was really hot. And I was like, ‘Piss off, you’re not his daughter?’ And she was, so we used to go out and have dinner and lunch quite a bit. Phil was a, I think he was a bit of a nobody then.

Now Phil Goff does have a daughter whom, umm could be seen to fit that description. However her name is not Samantha. If Jevan really was going out for meals with someone “quite a bit”, you think he would correctly remember their name. So again, does not help the credibility.

He makes allegations of sexual harassment against Tim Barnett. And some time later his partner (Mika) asked Barnett to pay $25,000 as compensation for Javen’s mental health. To my mind that is close to blackmail

Barnett makes the reasonable point that as a prominent gay MP pushing the boundaries of social legislation he was careful, like Caesar’s wife, to be above reproach, and not to be alone with people in situations that could be misconstrued.

There are no witnesses to the allegations so it is a case of he said vs she said. As someone who worked in Parliament for eight years, I got to hear a lot of gossip about a lot of MPs. You get to know which ones screw around and are sleazy. I don’t recall at the time any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour from Tim Barnett, and to the contrary he seemed very committed to his partner, Ramon. Without witnesses, I do not regard the allegations as credible. There are other MPs I would be more sceptical of.

Another allegation I find lacking in credibility is this:

INVESTIGATE: Michael Cullen?

JEVAN: I know he smoked it at the annual – I think it was the Christchurch Labour conference with Annette, but I don’t think Annette had it. I couldn’t be honest and say I saw her smoke it.

INVESTIGATE: But you did see him?

JEVAN: He had it in his hand, yes. I just remember him having it, it was passed to him by one of the young Labours.

This is in reference to cannabis use. It is quite possible Dr Cullen, like many NZers, has used cannabis at some stage. However to think the Deputy Prime Minister would openly smoke cannabis at a labour party conference – and in front of dozens of Young Labour activists is frankly incredible. I just don’t think it happened, and if that did not happen, I doubt some of the other allegations about cannabis use.

Not everything can be dismissed though. It seems very clear that some Labour Party MPs did lie about whether or not they knew Javen. The most blatant fib came from Lianne Dalziel, who confessed it online:

And yet…within five minutes of making the call to Dalziel’s office, Investigate received a phone call from Jevan, “You’ve just rung Lianne? She’s just sending me a Facebook chat apologising for denying that she knew me”.

This is what Dalziel said to Goulter:
“I owe you an apology. Ian Wishart has just contacted me and I’m afraid I said I didn’t remember you. I feel so guilty. All I’ve said, I told him you were a Facebook friend, so I knew ‘about’ you.

I hope this doesn’t affect what he is writing about you.”

Considering Lianne lost her ministerial job for not telling the truth, this doesn’t help her credibility.

The person who comes out of this looking very wise and sensible is Jacinda Ardern:

Young Labour were always very angry towards me, they didn’t like how I got to do what I wanted. Jacinda Ardern, who’s now an MP, she was my biggest hater….

But then I’m getting drunk and Jacinda comes over and rips the glass of wine out of my hand, ‘You can’t drink in here, you’re only 15!’

‘Yeah I can drink in here, it’s a private function, you’re not my mum, piss off’, and I got really verbal with her, I really didn’t like her.

So I walked over to Helen and I said,‘Jacinda’s just said I’m not allowed to drink. Am I allowed to drink or not?’ And Helen’s exact words were, ‘Of course you are, this is my house.’ I said, ‘I’m only 15’. And she said, ‘It’s my house’.

So I got my glass of wine and I started boozing up again. Jacinda just went off her nut. Now, Helen was drunk that night, in my view. Helen was drunk and she gets to the point when she’s drunk where people just take her away.

I think a number of Jacinda’s colleagues may rue that they were not as cautious around Jevan as she was. Jacinda’s actions look very prudent to me.

Incidentally I am also unconvinced of Helen Clark being drunk, and having to have people take her away. It’s not exactly an image that fits the former Prime Minister.

So overall I find the allegations lacking in credibility in significant areas. Having said that though, I think there are some lessons for Labour in the perils of letting a 14 year old run riot through Parliament and the party. He should have been in school in Christchurch.

As I have said before, I am a big fan of encouraging young people to get involved in politics. But I never encourage school age people to get significantly involved. Your school years should be a time of fun and learning, plus one often lacks the maturity to cope with “adult politics”.

That is not a universal rule. One friend of mine got involved at age 15 or 16 and went on to become a highly valued parliamentary and ministerial staffer. [UPDATE: Said staffer has e-mailed to say they are not highly valued but in fact under paid and over worked :-)]

But I also recall the 1993 election night when I allowed a 14 year old Young National to attend the election night HQ function, as a “results chalkie”. There was of course an open and free bar and I failed to supervise properly with the end result being the poor girl vomiting up in the boardroom, and then collapsing unconscious on the floor as she had never drunk alcohol before. I had to decide whether or not to take her to A&E or home, and had to deliver her still unconscious to her parents, who quite rightly were less than impressed. I visited the next day to check she was fine, and the parents were blaming her more than they were holding me responsible, but in the end I was the one responsible as the adult and still feel some remorse about it to this day.  Similarly, I suspect some Labour MPs are regretting allowing Jevan to spend so much time at Parliament, at functions at Premier House and the like.

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March 22nd, 2010 at 9:14 pm by David Farrar

TV3 report:

Former prime minister Jim Bolger will be replaced as chairman of NZ Post late in the year by former finance minister Michael Cullen.

Deputy Chair wasn’t enough. I mean why the fuck don’t we just make him Reserve Bank Governor also.


Labour on Auckland

September 16th, 2009 at 1:58 pm by David Farrar

Labour List MP Damien O’Connor blogs:

The rest of the country subsidises Auckland and provides it with the wealth to exist.

This is not a view unique to Damien. Michael Cullen once said:

Auckland now sits atop the nation like a great crushing weight

I think it is commendable Damien shares his views with us. he is obviously positioning to become Finance Minister.

Incidentally a report in 2006 concluded Auckland sends $3.8 billion more tax to Wellington than it receives back in spending.

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Thanks Michael

June 3rd, 2009 at 2:56 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The rail assets that cost taxpayers’ $690 million last year are now valued at just $349 million.

The Australians still refer to it as the sale of the century.

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Cullen’s speech in full

May 4th, 2009 at 10:54 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald has a transcript of Dr Cullen’s valedictory speech, plus they stuck it on You Tube.

UPDATE: My NBR column on Friday looked at Dr Cullen’s record as a Finance Minister. I thought I was fairly harsh on him, but most of the commenters to date think I was too easy!

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More Cullen wit

April 30th, 2009 at 5:57 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports:

He stood to make his farewell speech to Parliament yesterday after nearly 28 years, observing very few people got the chance to deliver what is in effect their own eulogy “or at least a progress report thereon”. …

“[The 1980s economic reforms] certainly caused me some small financial pain. The biggest speeding fine I ever got was driving back from Whakatane to Wellington in January 1990 when I heard on the news that Geoffrey Palmer was supposedly moving to reinstate Roger Douglas as Minister of Finance. I hit 134kph.”

On the political gamesmanship of Parliament’s question time:
It is, in my view, by far the most effective test of the mettle of ministers and their opponents of any Westminster-style Parliament. Imagine, for example, how well George W. Bush would have survived question time on a daily basis if he had been our Prime Minister. It would have taken many Grecians bearing many sorts of gifts to get him through the experience.”

On the different outlooks of New Zealand and Australia:
“An Aussie believes a little ripper is something good. We are just as likely to fear it might be the son of Jack, let in by mistake by Immigration.”

Sigh. I will miss him. I didn’t like his economic policies (in fact I think they represent the missed opportunity of a lifetime- a decade of waste), but he was a great parliamentarian with a real love for the House and its institutions. Sometimes his wit (especially in their final term) would descend into bitterness or nastiness, but most of the time it was a joy to behold.

When I worked in Parliament, a lot of the staff would gather around a TV to watch question time. And obviously you are there to cheer your own side on. But Cullen was the only Labour MP who could consistently get the partisan Labour-hating (in a competitive sense) Nat staffers clapping and cheering as he skewered a National MP with a witty response.

There were times too, when said National staffers would yell abuse at Dr Cullen’s image on TV, when his tongue went from funny to malicious. The relationship was certainly a love/hate one. But for me, I will remember the good times.

Cullen is the last of the three MPs who could dominate Parliament like no others since Muldoon and Lange. The other two were Peters and Prebble.

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Cullen’s best quote

April 29th, 2009 at 9:50 pm by David Farrar

My favourite is:

“To those in government, a genuine thank you for the NZPost appointment. When I attacked National last year for swallowing so many dead rats little did I think that some might see me as one of them.”

Also good:

“The attorney-general does not have to be a lawyer any more than the minister of education has to be a teacher, the minister of health a doctor, or the minister of corrections a convict.”

And some advice for the Greens:

“To the Greens — good luck. But loosen up a bit; saving the planet needs to sound less like punishment for our sins if it is going to succeed.”

Will link to video and transcript when I can locate them.

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Dr Cullen’s Maiden Speech

April 29th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader asked if a copy of Dr Cullen’s maiden speech could be located as it was not online. I put out a cry for help,and someone has found a copy, so enjoy:

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 23 April 1982, vol. 443, p 441-446

23 April 1982 Address in Reply 441

Dr CULLEN (St. Kilda): I rise feeling like the elusive “scarlet pimpernel” of the Labour Party. Members opposite, or at least some of them, have worked themselves into a righteous lather of trembling indignation about the left-wing academics in the Labour Party. At last, the “one and only” has stood up to be counted. The previous Opposition maiden speakers are not academics by their immediate former profession. I am the first Opposition speaker to be so. Three Opposition members might be classed as academics, but I am not sure about their qualifications: the member for Christchurch Central is a lawyer, and therefore qualified to make an income outside—and that may be an automatic disqualification; and the member for Te Atatu and the member for Mt Albert taught at Auckland University, but as an Otago man I am not clear about their status as academics. When the compliments about left-wing academics are thrown across the House I shall be grateful if they are addressed to me personally and not spread around in an unwarranted fashion.

I affirm my loyalty to the Queen, and her heirs and successors, whoever they may be.

Mr East: And to your old school, Christ’s College.

Dr CULLEN: And to my old school, Christ’s College. I am proud of the fact that my secondary education was not paid for by the taxpayers of New Zealand but by the farmers of Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay. I ripped them off for 5 years then, and I shall get stuck into them again in the next few years, so the honourable member should not bring that subject up too often.

The rest is over the break.


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Is he trying to be funny?

April 29th, 2009 at 10:36 am by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

Mr Goff says the person who should be most grateful for the legacy left by Michael Cullen is the current Finance Minister Bill English.

Oh yes, Bill gets up every morning I am sure and says to Mary “Boy am I glad Michael Cullen left me a structural $10 billion a year deficit”.

He gets in to work and tells his staff “Think how boring our job would be if Dr Cullen had not increased spending by $4.5 billion a year in his last budget”.

At Cabinet every week Bill reminds his colleagues of how good a legacy Dr Cullen left them, as he screws them departmental budgets down.

Goff should do stand up comedy if he really said that with a straight face.

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Cullen valedictory

April 28th, 2009 at 7:46 am by David Farrar

Michael Cullen’s valedictory will be at around 5.30 pm Wednesday. His departure leaves Phil Goff as the sole survivor of the 1981 intake.

Love him or hate him, Cullen has been one of the funniest debaters in the House in recent years, and I hope he will not disappoint in his valedictory. If it is as dispassionate as Helen’s, I’ll slit my wrists.

One of his former press secretaries has a tribute to him in the Herald. It covers some of the complexities:

For many in the public, reconciling the man seen visibly angry in a controversially broadcast exchange with Guyon Espiner with the man visibly moved at the signing of the Central North Island forestry settlement is not an easy task.

How do you make sense of the formidable policy mind who amazed senior officials when he designed the expansion of KiwiSaver on a couple of sides of A5 (complete with costings) with the infuriated figure who labelled John Key a “rich prick”?

I’ve referred to Cullen as a flawed genius previously and will try and cover this in more detail later in the week.


Cullen’s scorched earth policy has succeeded

April 24th, 2009 at 9:38 am by David Farrar

This week’s Dispatch from St Johnnysburg is online at NBR. Some extracts:

Bill English all but confirmed this week that the tax cuts planned (and legislated) for 2010 and 2011 will be cancelled.

They are a casualty of not just the global recession, but a victim of Michael Cullen’s “Scorched Earth” policy, otherwise known as his 2008 Budget.

Dr Cullen was gleeful in the hours after his final budget. He smirked and gloated that he had left no money for National. In fact he agreed in an interview with Gordon Campbell that his budget was a “booby trap” for National. …

You can reduce taxes if you keep spending under control, but Dr Cullen increased spending in his final budget by a massive $4.5 billion, at the same time as he also delivered (finally) tax cuts which when fully implemented would reduce revenue by around $3 to $4 billion a year.

Comments and feedback can be done over at NBR.

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Labour backs down on Foreshore & Seabed Law

April 22nd, 2009 at 5:46 am by David Farrar

It is good that Labour has said it was wrong to legislate to remove the ability of Iwi to seek title in court for parts of the Foreshore & Seabed. Access to the courts should not be removed at whim by a panicked Government.

It is bad that once again they try to rewrite history about why they did so. Here is what Dr Cullen says:

“Labour believed at the time of the Ngati Apa decision that it would have been unacceptable not to respond to the Court of Appeal ruling in a definitive way. The finding created widespread uncertainty that a responsible Government needed to address.

“We responded with the best solution possible at the time. But I have always regretted the fact that National and other parties refused to enter into proper discussions on this issue, so that a broad political consensus – as has been established with the Treaty settlement process – could be reached.

Labour made their key decision before there was any attempt to get consensus. Within just a few days of the Court of Appeal ruling, Clark and Wilson announced they would legislate to over-turn the decision.

“The matter must be resolved once and for all. Now that National claims to have disavowed its previous ‘Iwi vs Kiwi’ stance and a review has been established, the potential for that broad consensus to be reached appears possible.

Labour are trying to rewrite history to portray their decision to legislate to remove access to the courts, as being the result of National’s Iwi/Kiwi campaign.  Again – the truth is Labour made the key decision to legislate within a few days of the Court decision – which was around two years or more before the Iwi/Kiwi billboard.

The sensible and principled thing to do would have been to appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Privy Council. Labour did not want to do that as they had announced they wished to abolish such appeals, so rather than follow the law, they unilaterally changed it.

Chris Finlayson has resisted the urge to score cheap points at Labour’s expense (a lesson they could learn) and is reported as saying:

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson last night welcomed Labour’s move.

“I agree completely with Dr Cullen’s sentiment that the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act needs to be approached in a non-partisan way, and that the issue should not be used as a political football.

“I welcome his assurance that the Labour Party will engage constructively with the review. Our goal is to reach the best possible outcome for Maori and all the people of New Zealand, and it is important that the voices of all parties in Parliament are heard.”

Of course the details of what the review panel proposes will be crucial.

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Cullen did say it after all!

April 21st, 2009 at 5:06 pm by David Farrar

Since I blogged this morning that Dr Cullen may have said “We won, they lost, let’s do lunch” instead of “We won, you lot, eat that”I have been buried in texts and emails from journalists, former MPs, staffers all sure he had. But none of them knew exactly when – in fact some said it was during tax increase law, others re ACC, others some other time.

But finally we have an answer. We have a quote from Hansard on 9 August 2000 (a week before the let’s do lunch one I blogged earlier). It is:

“Eat that! You lost, we won, it [the ECA] goes! It is as simple as that!”

So there has been a minor mangling with the “Eat that” being at the beginning, not the end, but otherwise it is confirmed Dr Cullen did say that. My thanks to AG and all the others who have been at work on this.

Interestingly, one wonders then why Dr Cullen told the SST:

On “We won, you lost, eat that!” No, he says, he never said that to National. “It’s a wonderful piece of historic myth.”

Hardly a myth it seems. I don’t think a minor re-ordering which doesn’t affect the intent or arrogance qualifies Dr Cullen to call it a historic myth.

I’m glad someone finally dug up the actual quote. I was close to e-mailing Dr Cullen himself asking for what he thinks he said!


We won, you lost, eat that

April 21st, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader has e-mailed me regarding the infamous Cullen quote of “We won, you lost, eat that” and it does appear that in fact the quote has got mangled over the years.

At the time Cullen announced his retirement, there was a lot of searching for the quote. I even had a couple of calls asking me if I could recall where and when. I said I was pretty sure it was during the Employment Relations Bill debate as I was pretty much in Parliament from 9 am to midnight every day for a week as the main analyst on that law. I think I wrote over 1,000 amendments!

Anyway I recall Cullen saying it after one of the mammoth fillybustering sessions came to an end. And it was indeed at that time, but not quite as legend now reports it. My reader has seen the original video footage:

it was the day of 16 August 2000. Parliament has just finished the 7th and final day of the Employment Relations Bill second debate. The Clerk has just announced there will be a debate for the 3rd reading of the ERB.

Speaker Hunt calls for a meal break as both sides stand after what must have been a long morning.

Cullen is heard on the camera mic as he stands saying in a loud voice to his front bench colleagues, “We won, they lost, let’s do lunch”.

It seems the original quote has been through Chinese whispers since then, and the “eat that” part is not accurate. The first media reports of it were some days later.

So as a farewell present to Dr Cullen, Kiwiblog is pleased to set the record straight!


Cullen interview in SST

April 12th, 2009 at 9:14 am by David Farrar

An interesting interview of Michael Cullen in the SST:

MICHAEL CULLEN didn’t mean to call John Key a rich prick. At least, not out loud. “That was an interjection I never meant to be heard by anybody, not even those around me,” says the former deputy prime minister. “It was under voice,” he explains, mouthing and whispering the infamous words again to show how it happened.

Just like when Steve Maharey said “fuck you” to Jonathan Coleman and Ruth Dyson referred to Katherine Rich as a stupid tart. Also there was no whispering when Cullen called Key a scumbag, so I think we should be careful of rewriting history.

But Cullen was angry that day in Parliament, for family reasons. National leader Key had brought Cullen’s wife Anne Collins into the debate the previous night.

I generally agree that MPs families should be left out of politics. But there is an exception to that rule – when the family members willingly get involved in politics themselves.

I’ve looked at Hansard of that day, and the reference is merely to Anne Collins having supported Russel Fairbrother’s nomination in 2002, and Cullen signing Stuart Nash’s nomination papers in 2008. If you are actively involved in a political party, supporting various candidates, then you are in politics and it is not the same as a spouse who has no political involvement at all.

The politician finds it depressing that “everyone made a federal case” out of his blurt. He’s the father of Kiwisaver, the Cullen superannuation fund, of Working for Families and a return to egalitarianism in the age of excess, and all the media want to talk about is the “rich prick”! Cullen sighs in his blank office.

It was the quote that kept on giving. And the reason it did, was the inclusion of “rich”. If he just called him a prick it would have been forgotten. But by calling him a “rich prick” it implied being rich was a bad, nasty thing – like being a prick.

The government was sensitive to the charge that it was Nannyish, he says, but the rage over the light-bulb ban seemed “highly irrational”. The new bulbs were more efficient, less expensive and more environmentally desirable. But it didn’t think it could reverse the ban either. “When you’re a government that’s been there a long time, you keep doing u-turns and people start seeing you again as weak.”

This is one of the key mistakes third term Governments make. National did it with Punket in 1999, and Labour with various things in its third term. You convince yourself that “winning” and “not giving in” is more important than killing off an issue.

The anti-smacking bill was another strange case: even though National ended up voting for it, Labour got all the flak. Cullen says Labour could not have avoided the issue posed by green Sue Bradford’s bill. Section 59 of the Crimes Act had led to the acquittal of people who had made quite serious attacks on children. And it fitted Labour policy, so opposing the measure would make people say it had no principles.

But it was not a binary choice between the old law and Bradford’s proposal. The Borrows amendment would have stopped those acquittals but not criminalised parents who apply a light smack for correctional purposes.

Cullen still insists he could not have afforded big tax cuts in 2005 when he offered only the “chewing gum” cuts. Treasury was still forecasting disappearing surpluses.

“It’s a brave minister of finance who tells Treasury, `You’re wrong, I think we can spend it’, and then Treasury will produce numbers which will show you moving into significant deficit… I’d have been shot.”

Bullshit. Because he did exactly that in 2008. Even before the credit crisis, the tax cuts he announced were on a far far worst set of books than in 2005. The irony is tax cuts in 2005 would have been sustainable, but his 2008 tax cuts probably will not be.

The National-led government cut 70 staff from the Tertiary Education Commission. “The chances are this will lead to another blowout in low-quality education spending [such as the notorious “twilight golf” courses], which will cost far more than the bureaucrats.

These twilight golf courses occured under the TEC Labour set up. They had hundreds of staff and did nothing about them. WHen there were just 25 staff in the Ministry of Education, they had far better quality control than the montrosity created by Labour. Does Cullen really think twlight golf courses occured because there were too few TEC staff?

Cullen believes “only a tiny group of highly entrepreneurial people will make their way out of any situation, because they’ve got this enormous gift and it’s a lucky gift they’ve got”.

So sucess is all due to “luck” and a “gift”. Hard work, perseverance, education, training have nothing to do with it?

“It doesn’t matter that much how rich people get, provided they’re prepared to pay their taxes. What I always hate is when I hear the rich complaining they have to pay their taxes, that that is so unfair. I’ve always said, `Gosh, I was so pleased when I was deputy prime minister earning enough money to pay so much tax’.”

Dr Cullen has never worked in the private sector. When your income is due to your activites actually generating wealth, you do get upset as almost half of it disappears to Dr Cullen. When you have been on a state salary for 35 years or so, then of course you don’t mind paying tax.

On the PM: “[John] Key is a natural high pragmatist or low pragmatist. He wants to be prime minister, he wants to do things but he’s quite pragmatic about methods. Bill English is much harder-line.” So how come Labour painted Key as a neo-con wolf in sheep’s clothing? “I’d prefer not to go into that.”

This is quite extraordinary. Cullen basically admits that Labour’s negative campaign against Key was false, and they knew it was false, but they hoped the mud would stick. What else did Labour campaign on, knowing it was false?

On “We won, you lost, eat that!” No, he says, he never said that to National. “It’s a wonderful piece of historic myth.”

I think it was directed to business actually. Hansard for back then is not online, so hard to tell.

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