Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger says no one in politics would now disagree with the goal of a fair society that his former adversary Jim Anderton stood for.

Bolger, who was National Party leader when Anderton formed the New Labour Party and later the Alliance Party, said no one in politics now believed in the extreme free-market approach that led Anderton to quit the Labour Party in 1989.

Bolger later agreed to chair Kiwibank, which Anderton drove through the Labour-led Cabinet in 2001, and said the bank would outlive its creator.

"I think Kiwibank is one of his big legacies," he said.

Advertisement

"I think it has been very influential in banking in New Zealand and it will, I hope, continue to be so."

Bolger, like Anderton, is from a Catholic background and said Anderton "started from a deep Christian conscience".

"Jim was very active in the Catholic youth movement in his youth in Auckland. I didn't know him then but I knew the name," he said.

"The memory that people will have of Jim is his commitment to his values, the values he developed early in life. They were essentially about a fair and equitable society for everybody.

"The strength of Jim's character is that he never deviated from those beliefs."

Bolger said those beliefs were now again part of mainstream thinking.

"If you look at the underlying goal he had, which was a fair and just society, I don't think that is a lost cause," he said.

"It may have gone through some bad years in the time in which people became, I guess, obsessed that the market would deliver everything. But I see no such conviction in the world of politics at the present time."

He said he always respected Anderton and could not recall ever having an argument with him about anything.

"I think he played his role as he saw it, and he played it well."

Jim Anderton became Helen Clark's deputy prime minister after the 1999 election. Photo / File
Jim Anderton became Helen Clark's deputy prime minister after the 1999 election. Photo / File

He respected Anderton's record as Minister of Agriculture in Helen Clark's last Cabinet from 2005 to 2008.

"I think those who worked with him in the Ministry of Agriculture will remember him as a good minister in that portfolio, which was not a natural fit in many ways," he said.

Bolger said he agreed to chair NZ Post's Kiwibank subsidiary in response to a request from Dr Ross Armstrong, a former Auckland divisional chair of the National Party who chaired NZ Post at the time. Bolger was then NZ Ambassador to the United States.

"Ross eventually came across to Washington to talk to me," he said.

"I believed it was an idea that would work. I also believed that it had to be a business that was identifiably and distinctively known to ae a New Zealand business.

"I always think it was my masterstroke to call it Kiwibank."

Although Kiwibank still has only 4.3 per cent of the total assets of all NZ banks, Bolger said it had been effective.

"What it did was it brought in competition," he said. "Clearly we made some of the moves to reduce the cost of borrowing for New Zealanders. Simple as that."

Both Helen Clark and her Finance Minister Michael Cullen have said today that they initially opposed setting up Kiwibank.

"I was one of the sceptics. How do we know anyone will use this bank?" Clark said.

"But it was very important part of Jim's policy platform, and the truth was that the major banks had more or less exited so many smaller communities and suburbs. But there was still a post office, so putting Kiwibank into those facilities was a winner.

"It did incredibly well. I was wrong and he was right on that one."

Cullen also said Anderton was proved right with the bank.

"To be honest I wasn't the greatest enthusiast about setting it up in the first place, but Jim was proved right in the global financial crisis when it became very clear that the Australian-owned banks would give prominence to Australian interests," he said.

A former general secretary of the New Labour Party, artist Sally Griffin, said Anderton's Alliance Party left another lasting legacy by campaigning for the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system for parliamentary elections, which was adopted by a referendum in 1993 after the public felt betrayed by the free-market policies of both the Labour and National Parties.

Current National Party leader Bill English said Anderton was "a critical figure in the evolution of MMP".

"Jim Anderton was a strong-minded and determined politician who was admired by friend and foe alike," English said.

"Jim knew New Zealand politics at every level, he was a strong advocate for people he believed needed representation and he was a critical figure in the evolution of MMP.

Jim Anderton (right) worked with former National MP Philip Burdon (left) on the campaign to rebuild ChristChurch Cathedral. Photo / File
Jim Anderton (right) worked with former National MP Philip Burdon (left) on the campaign to rebuild ChristChurch Cathedral. Photo / File

"Jim was also a highly respected leader in Christchurch. It was totally consistent with Jim's character that through his recent illness he continued to fight energetically for his views on the restoration of the ChristChurch Cathedral.

"On behalf of the National Party, I extend my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Anderton who supported him through his many years of service."