Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen has died at age 76.
The office of House Speaker Trevor Mallard announced the news in a statement on Friday, confirming the former Labour Party deputy leader died on Thursday night in Whakatāne, after battling lung cancer.
A private family funeral service will take place as soon as possible and there will be a public memorial service to be held in Tāneatua, in due course.
Sir Michael is survived by his wife Anne Collins, their four children and partners, and eight grandchildren. The family has asked for privacy.
Michael Cullen served as Deputy Prime Minister from 2002-2008 under Helen Clark’s Labour Government. He was also deputy leader of Labour from 1996-2008. He served as Finance Minister, Minister of Tertiary Education, and Attorney-General.
Sir Michael retired from Parliament in 2009 and was involved in Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations for Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāi Tūhoe.
He also chaired the Earthquake Commission, the Tax Working Group, the Bay of Plenty and Lakes District Health Boards, and was involved in other governance and community roles.
In a statement published on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described Sir Michael as "one of the most influential figures in New Zealand politics" over the last 40 years.
"Intelligent, funny and kind, he left a significant legacy for the country," Ardern said. "New Zealand is so much the richer, in every sense of the word, for Michael's life. He gave his life to making this place better for everyone."
Ardern also described him as a "great friend" to her and the Labour caucus.
"We will miss him terribly, and we are sending all our love to Anne and his family. We are devastated, but know that our grief is only a fraction of that which they will feel at the loss of a husband and father," Ardern said.
"For his whole adult life Michael has served his country with distinction and courage. As he himself said he has lived a long and very fulfilling life, one for which we are forever grateful. Rest in Peace Sir Michael."
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said as the architect of KiwiSaver, the New Zealand Super Fund and Working For Families, Sir Michael has left behind an "economically more secure country".
"Each of these policies on their own would define a political career, but taken together they represent one of the most significant contributions any politician has made in recent times. But for Michael they are only part of his extraordinary contribution to New Zealand."