Cullen happy to accept knighthood - and a razzing

Long-serving Dunedin MP and former deputy prime minister Michael Cullen sees the irony in his elevation to a knighthood.

As a member of the Labour cabinet which agreed to abolish titular titles in 2000, it was the National Government's decision to overturn that nine years later which has enabled him to become Sir Michael.

"I'm sure I will get a bit of a razzing from some of my old Labour colleagues, but not half as much as the razzing I will get in the clubhouse at the Ohope Golf Club," he said from his Whakatane home.

Accepting a title was not a difficult decision, he said, although he "had to broach the subject gently" with his wife, former East Coast Labour MP Anne Collins, who held stronger views.

"I will be Sir Michael on formal occasions. The rest ofthe time I will just be Michael, as usual," he said.

A politician for almost three decades and MP for St Kilda (later Dunedin South) for 18 years, Sir Michael said he had largely agreed with Labour's decision to abolish titles, although the move did not get wide public support and the honours abbreviations introduced by Labour "had not been very imaginative".

"Under that system I would have been a PCNZM or something. It sounds like the lower ranks of the constabulary."

He said he still favoured the introduction of a uniquely New Zealand honours system which the public would embrace.

He said he was pleased to have been offered a knighthood.

"I obviously feel some pride and am very grateful to receive it ... There have been achievements over the years which I am proud of - I'm not unduly modest about that.

"But when you get an honour like this, other people have helped along the way, Labour Party colleagues, Parliamentary staff and others who put the effort in."

Sir Michael (67) moved to Dunedin in 1971 to become a lecturer in history at the University of Otago. He joined the Labour Party in 1974 and said he was "15kg lighter and 30 years younger" when he first became an MP 1981.

In 1999, he became a list MP, moving to Napier, and later Whakatane, to be closer to Ms Collins' parents.

He has held many ministerial and Parliamentary posts, including attorney-general, minister of Treaty negotiations, finance minister and leader of the house from 1999-2008, and deputy prime minister from 2002-2008.

Asked what he considered his major achievements as an MP, Sir Michael said being part of an overhaul of Parliamentary Standing Orders, which among other things resulted in more reasonable sitting times for MPs rather than them sitting through the night in urgency, and a more robust and productive question time.

He was also pleased to have seen the introduction of MMP which brought with it more diverse representation.

Since his retirement from politics in 2009, Sir Michael has been deputy chairman and chairman of New Zealand Post and has been involved in the Bay of Plenty economic development group and several iwi organisations.

He has also been appointed to the Government's constitutional review advisory panel.

- allison.rudd@odt.co.nz

 

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