Tributes, criticism flow for former Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson

Grant Robertson has announced his retirement from politics as the Labour Party reshuffles its caucus.   

The former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister has been appointed Otago University's vice-chancellor, as revealed in an email leaked to Newshub.   

Robertson and the university quickly confirmed this.  

He is expected to begin the new role on July 1 and Barbara Edmonds will take over as Labour's finance spokesperson. 

Tributes for Robertson, who has been a member of Parliament for 15 years, have flowed.   

Labour leader Chris Hipkins told the media he will miss Robertson's friendship.   

"In many of the significant events that have happened in my life outside of work, Grant has been... one of the people who I've spoken to most about that," Hipkins said.   

"I'll certainly miss him; I'll miss his contribution to our team of course but, that's the nature of politics - people come and people go."

Speaking in the House, both PM Christopher Luxon and Finance Minister Nicola Willis thanked Robertson for his service.

"I would like to congratulate him on his foresight and wish him well for his future," said Willis.  

"Can I just acknowledge Grant Robertson's announcement of his retirement today," said Luxon. 

"I thank him for his service in this place in Parliament, and also in Government, and wish him well for the future."  

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was sad to see Robertson go. 

"He's been an excellent advocate," she said. "I wish him well."  

Labour's Twitter account posted simply "thank you, Grant" along with a heart sign.

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had Robertson as her Deputy, took to Instagram to share her tributes.  

"He is selfless, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and to top it off, one of the funniest people I know," she wrote.  

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark celebrated Robertson steering New Zealand's economy "through the challenging times of #COVID_19 pandemic".  

James Shaw, who recently announced his own retirement at Green Party coleader, posted on Facebook "it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to count Grant as a colleague in Government and to run alongside him for 12 years in Wellington Central".   

"I believe that he was one of the most talented, committed and values-led politicians of our generation."  

Tamatha Paul, the new Green MP who holds Robertson's former seat Wellington Central, said on Facebook, "we are going to miss you so much in Pōneke but are very grateful for all of the mahi you've done for our city during your impressive political career".  

Not all the reactions to Robertson's departure were overly positive, with ACT leader David Seymour telling media that "Grant Robertson's legacy unfortunately is $100 billion worth of debt".   

"His job as Finance Minister was to get value for money from the public purse and now this Government is going to have to work doubly hard to save money to make up for the debt that he accumulated."  

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters wished Robertson well but also criticised his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

"The second time around in '21 and onwards, the handling of that was a disaster. And that's why as time goes by the inquiry will find that out, and the level of indebtedness was massive, unjustified," Peters said.   

He also joked that Robertson was well suited to Otago University because of the institution's debt.  

"I think he's well-fitted, he's going off to a university that's $100 million in debt, having left this country in debt, so he's well-practised as to what he should be able to do now. But I wish him all the best," Peters said.  

Robertson was touted as next in line for Prime Minister, seen as the natural successor to Ardern, but he did not want the role.  

"I'm 51 and I do want to live a healthier life. I haven't been great at that over the last few years, that's related to the stuff we've had to do," he told the NZ Herald in February 2023.   

"I know I leave a Labour caucus in good heart, with strong leadership and a clear focus on the issues that matter to New Zealanders," he said in a statement about his retirement.   

Born and educated in Dunedin, Robertson studied politics at Otago where he will now return.