Volunteers the 'real heroes' - Phil Goff

Phil Goff says his long-suffering family deserve the honour he's been bestowed with in 2016's New Year Honours list.

The recently elected Auckland Mayor has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services as a Member of Parliament.

"It's interesting to get an award for a job that you've done for 32 years that you've actually loved doing," Mr Goff told Newshub.

"I think the people I really appreciate are the people who get the awards like the QSO, the QSM, who work hard without ever having expectation of reward or even recognition. Those are the real heroes in my mind."

Those two awards - the Queen's Service Order and the Queen's Service Medal - recognise volunteers and elected officials.

"I think of those people that are out there when the rest of us are enjoying time with our families on Christmas Day, who are helping the disadvantaged - people like Chris Farrelly at the Auckland City Mission, putting on dinners for people to try and make Christmas Day a special occasion for people who have so little."

Mr Goff says his own award really belongs to his family.

"The lows I guess are the long hours, the long time away from your family. Your family are the people who should actually get the award, because they're the people who miss out because you're not there to be with them, when you should."

Mr Goff joked it won't be long until his former rival, John Key, finds his name on the New Year Honours list.

"I'm sure his services as Prime Minister will be recognised, as indeed Helen Clark's were."

Mr Goff rates signing the free trade agreement with China as his greatest achievement in Parliament, followed by the establishment of the international education industry in the 1980s.

He first entered Parliament in 1981, lost his seat in 1990 but returned in 1993. He held Mt Roskill from 1999 until being elected Auckland Mayor in 2016.