Barry Soper: Bit rich for Cullen to call Key a 'rich prick'

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Friday, 8 March 2019, 6:13AM
Sir Michael Cullen.
Sir Michael Cullen.


It's a bit rich (with rich being the operative word) for Sir Michael Cullen to have once called John Key a rich prick, when he seems to be doing the best to become one himself.

Is there any wonder why at the end of interviews over his Tax Working Group's report he politely says it was his pleasure.

That's because the cash register begins ticking over the moment he's approached to clarify aspects of his group's comprehensive report - and it will continue long after the Government's finally given its view of the report at the end of April.

Cullen's had his $1062 rate for a six-hour day contract extended until the end of June.

His paymaster Grant Robertson says of course he'll rarely earn the daily rate, essentially because he won't be working that hard.

As some sort of justification for keeping him on the job he cited the last Tax Working Group, back in 2010, and its chairman Professor Bob Buckle and all the work he was required to do after their report was delivered to the Key Government.

Certainly Buckle remembers it was full on, with him giving speeches up and down the country about our tax system.

But there's one significant difference between his working group and the current one, they weren't paid anything for producing the report or explaining it afterwards.

The secretariat for that group was run through Victoria University and not through Treasury, like this one has been.

Tax Working Group chairman Sir Michael Cullen. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tax Working Group chairman Sir Michael Cullen. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Treasury connection's seen by National as the politicisation of the public service, particularly given provocative explanations through the bureaucracy decrying National's view of aspects of the report.

That claim led to a belly laugh from Robertson, who says it shows nothing more than a Treasury official having a keyboard to type out the views of Cullen.

Truth of the matter is that it's not Cullen's job to clarify aspects of his report - and it's certainly not his job to indulge in the politics of the issue.

That's the Government's job.

His work ended with the delivery of the report and its recommendations for the Government to ponder from now until the end of April.

Ponder is probably the wrong word, 'persuade' is more appropriate one because that's what it'll be doing to get Winston Peters across the line.

Labour would do well to consider the politics of Cullen's invitation as he was about to deliver his group's report.

During his 17 years as Labour's finance spokesman, including nine as Finance Minister, not once did he advocate a capital gains tax.

He invited us to draw our own conclusions from that.

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