Audrey Young 's Opinion

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: A parliamentarian without parallel

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It is not in Michael Cullen's nature to give a simple answer when a clever one will suffice.

So at a press conference yesterday when asked if he regretted having requested Helen Clark to step down as Labour leader in 1996, he said no.

His logic was that the outcome of his approach had been to unify a previously divided caucus and create a powerful leadership team between Helen Clark and himself as deputy that lasted for the next 12 years, nine in Government.

"So do I have regrets? If you look at the outcome, no."

The reasoning is convincing enough.

His loyalty to Helen Clark since that failed takeover (he was one among five) has been unswerving. Anything less would have threatened Labour's dominance of the past nine years.

Dr Cullen will live in Ohope where he and his wife, former MP Anne Collins, are building a home. Among his duties in life after politics will be roles advising iwi in their negotiations with the Crown.

Dr Cullen will join the board of New Zealand Post and step up as deputy in October.

In all likelihood he will take over the helm - and its subsidiary Kiwibank - from former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger and can expect to earn about $75,000.

Helen Clark will deliver her valedictory speech in the House at 5.30pm today before heading to the United Nations Development Programme. For her there is pride and respect.

For Dr Cullen, who was always a more polarising figure publicly, there is huge affection in the party. In many ways he will be more missed when he departs at the end of the month.

To the party he was the Finance Minister who managed the economy well enough to deliver such flagship policies as Working for Families and KiwiSaver.

To others he was the hoarder who would not give people the tax relief they deserved.

However, his abilities as a parliamentarian have been without parallel in any party in recent years.

Plenty of MPs are steeped in the House itself, its powers, its mysteries and procedures but no one has quite been in Dr Cullen's league.

Many MPs are fine orators on a good day but none have been as consistently strong as Dr Cullen.

Many ministers are steeped in the detail of their own portfolios, but no one - except Helen Clark - has carried the workload of finance as well as being the troubleshooters for the really tough issues of the day.

It is a mark of his abilities that he went so quickly from the architect and broker of Labour's solution to the Foreshore and Seabed court judgment, which united Maoridom in anger, to the most respected Treaty Negotiations Minister since Sir Douglas Graham.

Helen Clark was a strong leader for the country. But Michael Cullen was a highly active leader in terms of the party's parliamentary performance. On that score he will leave Parliament somewhat bereft.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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