Sir Michael Cullen, who died in Whakātane Thursday night , is being remembered as an “intelligent”, “witty”, and kind man who left a “significant legacy”.
The former deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister was 76. He died after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Sir Michael “one of the most influential figures in New Zealand politics over the last 40 years”.
“Intelligent, funny and kind he left a significant legacy for the country. New Zealand is so much the richer, in every sense of the word, for Michael’s life. He gave his life to making this place better for everyone.
“He fought for social justice at every turn, understanding the need for balance and pragmatism at times, but always focused on the big picture and the long-term.”
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, a former Labour staffer, remembered him as a “generous, kind and witty man”.
“His legacy to our country is enormous,” he tweeted.
“For me personally he was always there with advice and a laugh. Rest easy now my friend.”
Robertson noted in a separate statement Sir Michael was “loyal to the Labour Party, but also not afraid to voice his concerns”.
“I can recall a number of more recent Labour Party Conferences where he would pop up to speak and introduce himself as ‘a member of the Whakātane Branch’ to make a wise and decisive intervention.
“He maintained his interest and commitment to the causes he believed in for his whole political life.”
National leader Judith Collins said Sir Cullen was a “consummate politician” and “a respected adversary and a man of absolute conviction”.
“He was a man of uncommon and uncompromising principle,” Collins said in a statement.
"When he retired from politics in 2009, such was our respect for him we called on his vast skills and knowledge to chair New Zealand Post and Kiwibank, as well as appointing him to lead a wide-ranging review of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies.
“He will be remembered as one of our most effective Ministers of Finance, with a long-term view of what needed to be done to enhance New Zealand’s economic and social prosperity and stability.
“His passion was to make New Zealand a better place for everyone. Sir Michael’s keen intellect, wit and vast expertise will be missed by us all, and our thoughts and condolences are with his family."
Former Labour MP Dover Samuels remembered Sir Michael Cullen’s wit and humour in cabinet.
"I was very sad to hear the news that he had passed away this morning," Samuels told 1 NEWS.
"He steered us through a number of controversial issues when he was Minister of Finance.
"With his wit and his humour he bridged that [gap], especially with the Māori caucus and the Māori ministers."
National MP Gerry Brownlee also expressed his condolences.
"Sad to hear this morning of Sir Michael Cullen’s passing. Whilst we did not always agree politically, I respected him as a great Parliamentarian. My thoughts and prayers are with his family," Brownlee tweeted.
In a tweet, ACT leader David Seymour remembered Sir Michael as a “quick-witted politician”.
“We were especially grateful for his brave advocacy for End of Life Choice while he was ill. We wish his loved ones’ privacy and consolation as they remember him,” Seymour wrote.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said Sir Michael had left an “enduring legacy”, which included KiwiSaver, the Super Fund, and interest-free student loans.
“He will be greatly missed by his family and friends and our colleagues in the Labour Party.”
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson also tweeted: “Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou te whānau whānui me tana hapori katoa. I know this will rock his loved ones and friends and I send them my aroha.”
Former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer also paid his tributes.
"I well remember speaking on his behalf when he was a parliamentary candidate in Dunedin in 1981 when the Springbok tour was a prime issue. He was fearless on that issue at a time when many MPs and candidates found it more convenient to hold their tongues," Palmer said in a statement.
"He was always decisive and efficient. Few could match him in debate; he was formidable."
"We will all miss him greatly."
A private family funeral service for Sir Michael will take place as soon as that can occur, the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard said.
There will also be a public Memorial Service, to be held in Tāneatua, in due course.
Sir Michael is survived by his wife Anne Collins, their four children and eight grandchildren.
Sir Michael first announced he was battling Stage 4 small cell lung cancer in March 2020. He had multiple secondary cancers in his liver.