Former Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen has revealed that it is Grant Robertson, not Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has the hardest job within the Labour Party.

Speaking at the party's annual conference in Whanganui yesterday, Cullen also had a crack at National and its finance spokesman, Paul Goldsmith.

Cullen was introducing Robertson, current Minister of Finance, before his speech to members.

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"He holds the hardest job in Labour, with all due respect to Jacinda," Cullen said of Robertson.

As the person in charge of the Government's purse strings, Robertson has to turn down requests for funding from his fellow Ministers.

He said Labour is a party not too dissimilar to the Les Misérables' song I Dreamed a Dream.

"The Minister of Finance's job is to say 'but' at that point."

Cullen also took aim at the businesspeople that the Finance Minister has to meet with.

"You go to those Auckland business breakfasts, where it's like a sort of well-dressed set of French women with knitting needles at the time of the revolution."

He said you get treated like some sort of "highly dangerous mad socialist who's about to try to bulldoze capitalism into the Waitemata Harbour".

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister also faces criticism from the left – many of whom, according to Cullen, say whoever is in the job was "really just another neoliberal in a long line and you're some kind of tool of capitalism."


On the other hand, Cullen said it was "very easy" being a National Party minister of finance.

"Basically, you have to have three, or six, or nine years of masterly inactivity and let the free market do its work.

"You might as well have a stuffed dummy with a sign around its neck saying: 'tax cuts coming soon' – that's all you need from a National Party minister of finance, which is why Paul Goldsmith is the perfect spokesperson.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said Goldsmith was "the electoral candidate you have when you don't want an electoral candidate".

Goldsmith did not respond to request for comment.

Cullen also talked about the first time he met Robertson in his Dunedin South electorate office many years ago.

"This young man came in who was fresh from … well, not fresh … he had been from Kings High school where he was Dux, I think."

"Basically, he asked me very politely how he could get my job – which I thought was an interesting proposition."

Speaking to media later in the day, Robertson said he did remember going to see Cullen but did not remember asking for his job.

"He was the local MP – and I wasn't the Dux either, I was the head boy, which was partly built on my sporting prowess as well."