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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 2—Finance

2. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: On what date was Sir Michael Cullen first appointed as chair of the Tax Working Group, and when will his contract end?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Sir Michael Cullen was appointed as the chair of the Tax Working Group on 22 December 2017. His contract was extended on 2 February 2019 to end on 30 June 2019. In practice, the contract is unlikely to be required until 30 June; this date was chosen as it is when the appropriation for the Tax Working Group expires. For completeness, I would note that the letter reappointing Sir Michael is date-stamped 30 January 2018, when, of course, it should be 2019.

Hon Amy Adams: Is it appropriate for Sir Michael Cullen to be undertaking political attacks while being paid more than $1,000 a day by taxpayers?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe it is appropriate for Sir Michael Cullen, as the chair of the Tax Working Group, to explain the recommendations of that working group while the matter is under consideration by the Government. If, as part of those explanations, he is required to correct misrepresentations and lies, that is the role he has.

Hon Amy Adams: Does it count as explaining the recommendations for Sir Michael Cullen to make statements describing the Opposition, and I quote, as “salivating like a bunch of guard Alsatians from the German army in World War II”, and isn’t that simply a political attack being funded from taxpayers’ dollars?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Sir Michael Cullen is responsible for the words that he uses. A phrase does come to mind: “If the shoe fits”.

Hon Amy Adams: Why is he so cavalier about paying a former Labour Minister $1,000 a day to undertake clearly political attacks?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I am not being cavalier about this. The pay rate that Sir Michael Cullen has is based on the Group 4, Level 1 body rate under the Cabinet fees framework.

Hon Amy Adams: Why is the Minister using taxpayer funds to pay Michael Cullen $1,000 a day to do, and I quote, “favours for the Government”, as Willie Jackson stated in Parliament yesterday?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don’t believe that’s a fair characterisation of what was a very full and rich speech by the Hon Willie Jackson. There is, however, one element of the Hon Willie Jackson’s speech that I am a little concerned about—or, actually, the comments he made after the speech—which was he told media that he was paid a thousand dollars to do a speech, by the ACT Party. I’m not sure what that says about the economic wisdom of the ACT Party.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true to say that Dr Cullen is getting the same remuneration under the Cabinet fees framework as he got a number of times from the National Government?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Presuming that the National Party, when they appointed Sir Michael Cullen to various roles, obeyed the fees framework. Now, I don’t have the information to support that, but certainly he was a person—and indeed he is a person, who is widely respected around New Zealand for his knowledge, and presumably that’s why the National Party appointed him when they were in Government.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, is the employment Minister right that the reaction of average workers to Sir Michael Cullen’s thousand-dollars-a-day payment to do this sort of work would be one of, I quote, “disgust”?

SPEAKER: Hang on, I just want to think about ministerial—I’m going to get the member to rephrase the question so it clearly gets into the responsibility of the Minister of Finance.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, does the Minister of Finance agree with the employment Minister when he said that the reaction of average workers to paying Sir Michael Cullen a thousand dollars a day to do this sort of work would be one of “disgust”?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I’ve said, it was a full and rich speech by Minister Jackson, during which he made a number of comments about Sir Michael Cullen’s role. They are Mr Jackson’s to own. What I believe is that Sir Michael Cullen has done and is doing a great job for New Zealanders. He was being paid in accordance with the Cabinet fees framework, and, indeed, he was no doubt paid similar or larger amounts of money by the National Party when they employed him.