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Michael Cullen Leaves Parliament For The Last Time

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Michael Cullen
Michael Cullen

By Peter Wilson of NZPA

Wellington, April 29 NZPA - Michael Cullen, an MP since 1981 and finance minister for the last nine years, left Parliament's debating chamber for the last time tonight after a valedictory speech marked by the cleverness and wit for which he was so well-known.

The political pugilist farewelled his friends and foes with none of the acerbic jabs that gained him a reputation as the most difficult and trenchant of opponents.

He admitted that he had liked question time, the most combative part of parliamentary life, and said he believed it was by far the most effective test of the mettle of ministers.

"Much of Parliament is a form of theatre, a stage on which ideas and personalities contest for dominance," he said.

"It is neither a simple legislative sausage machine, nor a company board, nor some king of policy group-grope or, as we now call them, summits."

Dr Cullen said the vast majority of MPs came to Parliament to try to improve the lives of New Zealanders, however much they differed as to the means of achieving that.

"Hence the most depressing comment about MPs that I can recall was when one senior press gallery member claimed the default position of politicians was to lie," he said.

"One might easily respond that the default position of journalists is to misrepresent and to manipulate. Neither statement is a fair reflection of the truth."

Dr Cullen said there had always been three basic themes to his political philosophy -- a profound belief in the essential equality of people, a hatred of poverty and a belief that economic and social policy had to be guided by the ideals of security and opportunity.

The said he would list just four of many low points in his long political career.

"The failure to stop the philistine obscenity of the Clyde high dam.

"The lack of consensus around the foreshore and seabed issue.

"The difficulty of getting a simple approach to the problem of leaky homes.

"The failure to get the majority of the press gallery to understand fiscal policy."

And there were "the many good things" he had been part of.

"Over the last 50 years we have maintained a first world quality of life despite an international trading system massively biased against what we do best," he said.

Dr Cullen listed the creation of the National Superannuation Fund, a more pragmatic approach to supporting business, a massive increase in infrastructure spending and sharing the fruits of growth.

"The end of the right to rape one's wife, the end of the attempt to prevent gay people being themselves, the end of corporal punishment in schools, the greater openness about domestic violence and mental health issues, the increasing diversity, richness and tolerance of our society are all to be celebrated."

Dr Cullen was given a standing ovation before he left the debating chamber.

The public galleries were packed and Prime Minister John Key was one of the first to acknowledge him.

NZPA PAR pw kn

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