Grant Robertson defends extending Sir Michael Cullen's '$1000-a-day' contract

The Finance Minister has defended the Government extending the Tax Working Group chair's contract, despite the group's main purpose having concluded. 

"There's clearly a lot of interest in the Tax Working Group's report, and he needs to be in a position to be able to respond to the questions that are asked," Grant Robertson said on Thursday. 

The decision to extend Sir Michael Cullen's contract to June 30 has been controversial, with ACT Party leader David Seymour saying on Thursday it's unfair to the taxpayer. 

"For taxpayers to continue to pick up Dr Cullen's $1062-a-day fee after being appointed more than 14 months ago is outrageous," he said. 

"The Tax Working Group has delivered its report. It's now up to the Government to respond and publicly defend its plan for our tax system."

The Tax Working Group's report, published on February 21, recommended the Government introduce a capital gains tax, including shares and business assets, but excluding the family home. It also recommended reducing KiwiSaver and personal income taxes. 

The report has been controversial, especially since a Newshub-Reid Research poll found that the majority of voters in New Zealand did not want a capital gains tax.  

Mr Seymour suggested that the extension of Sir Michael's appointment as the chair of the Tax Working Group was a "vote of no confidence in the ability of Finance Minister Grant Robertson to articulate and defend his Government's tax plan". 

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union also came out strongly against news of the extension, with spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke saying: "Sir Michael is still being paid over $1000 a day to argue for higher taxes."

"If the National Party set up a Steven Joyce-led Working Group and paid Mr Joyce to get on radio and attack the Labour Party and advocate for lower taxes, the political left would rightly get up in arms."

Mr Robertson defended the extension, telling media it's important that Sir Michael is in a position as the chair of the Tax Working Group to be able to articulate what's in it, amid on-going discussions about what the recommendations could mean. 

When asked if it's the Government's job to explain what it could mean rather than Sir Michael Cullen, Mr Robertson said: "I've been answering questions about the report every single day, but this is the Working Group's report."

He rubbished claims that the former Finance Minister would be paid over $1000 a day: "It's not $1000 a day - that's the rate for the hours that he might charge. It certainly won't be a full day's work every day."

He then confirmed that Sir Michael would be paid "just over $1000 a day" for the hours that he worked, which is understood to be six hours maximum per day. He added that no other members of the Tax Working Group would be kept on. 

"Michael Cullen was the chair of the group and we felt it was reasonable to keep him on," Mr Robertson said. "He feels that there have been misrepresentations and will respond to that appropriately.

"This is his time. This is the time that he's devoting to respond to the report."