Finance Minister Grant Robertson says Tax Working Group (TWG) Chair Michael Cullen is responsible for the comments he makes while he stays on the Government’s payroll to “defend the integrity” of the Group’s report.
Interest.co.nz on Wednesday challenged Cullen over his defence of the report sounding like he was coming in to bat for the Government.
Cullen said it was his job to “wade into policy,” which wasn’t the same as politics.
Asked on Thursday whether Cullen’s commentary was politically neutral, Robertson said: “I think he’s responding to issues that have been raised.
“He’s responsible himself for what the tone of those comments are. But when people misrepresent the report, I’m sure he will respond appropriately.”
As reported in detail on Wednesday, Cullen has used some creative language to shoot down the maths the National Party has used to calculate the impact the Group’s recommendations would have on KiwiSaver members.
He’s also made statements around how he believes National wouldn’t reverse any tax changes made by this government, and said he doesn’t believe the Government would do anything to negatively impact KiwiSaver members.
Unbeknownst to the public at the time, Cullen made these comments while still being paid by the Government.
Robertson only let it slip on Wednesday that Cullen’s contract had been extended from February, when the Group delivered its final report, to June 30.
He revealed this when interest.co.nz queried him about an RNZ interview Cullen did where he made the above comments.
Asked why, having offered Cullen the extension on January 30, he didn’t make the announcement earlier, Robertson said: “I don’t think there was any particular decision made to announce it or not to announce it.”
Pressed on whether it was necessary to keep Cullen employed, Robertson said there was a lot of public interest in the report and Cullen needed to be in a position where he could articulate what was in it.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable, when he’s required to comment on things, that he continues to be remunerated in the same way that he was,” Robertson said.
Cullen’s charge rate remains the same as when he was working on the report.
He can be paid for doing work (which includes media interviews) for up to six hours a day. This could see him earn up to $1062 a day.
“These are the rates that people are paid when they do government working group work. This is a very important task,” Robertson said.
He said none of the other 10 TWG members had been kept on the job, including the three who disagreed with the proposal to extend the taxation of capital beyond investment property, because as the Chair, Cullen was responsible.