NZ Labour giant Michael Cullen dies

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Sir Michael Cullen, Helen Clark's deputy prime minister and the father of New Zealand superannuation, has died aged 76.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fought back tears as she remembered Sir Michael on Friday, saying he was "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," she said.

"He fought for social justice at every turn ... New Zealand is so much the richer, in every sense of the word, for Michael's life."

Sir Michael is a genuine giant of the New Zealand Labour party, serving in parliament for 28 years and taking ministries in two governments.

Sir Michael rose to be Labour's deputy leader and finance minister during Ms Clark's three terms of government.

Ms Clark said Cullen was incredible and "indispensable to the success of our government".

"He was witty, he was clever, quick on his feet and he could be quite acerbic.

"But in private he was quite a shy person. He lived a very modest lifestyle, and he was committed to doing the best he could for New Zealanders."

Current finance minister Grant Robertson said Sir Michael's legacy inspired him daily.

"As the architect of KiwiSaver, the New Zealand Super Fund, and (welfare program) Working For Families he has left behind an economically more secure country," Mr Robertson said.

"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."

Senator Penny Wong offered condolences and a tribute from sister party the ALP.

"Generations of New Zealanders have benefited from his efforts to ensure greater financial security and opportunities for working people," she said.

Sir Michael emigrated from the UK as a child, growing up in Christchurch and studying in Scotland before settling in Dunedin.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, turning his hand to his memoirs, Labour Saving, published in June.

One of his political proteges, East Coast MP Kiri Allan, drew out a line from the book while remembering him.

"Death is no more than the space we make for others to live," he wrote.

Sir Michael is survived by wife Anne Collins, a former Labour MP, their four children and eight grandchildren.

Speaker Trevor Mallard said there are plans for a small and private funeral.

A public memorial service in the Bay of Plenty town Taneatua is likely after the removal of COVID-19 restrictions.

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