20 Feb 2024

Political opponents, allies offer parting words to Labour's Grant Robertson

5:37 pm on 20 February 2024
Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins walk to Labour's caucus

Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Politicians have paid tribute to their colleage Grant Robertson after he announced his departure from politics, but leaders of the coalition parties have also offered some parting shots.

Robertson, who was Labour's finance minister for during its six years in government under Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, was also the deputy prime minister under Ardern and held many other roles.

He retires after 15 years in Parliament, having been the MP for Wellington Central from his election in 2008 until the election last year, when he stood aside.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said Robertson had been an outstanding servant for New Zealand and a huge asset to the Labour Party.

"Grant leaves with our very very best wishes," he said.

Ardern is no longer at Parliament, but paid tribute to her former deputy and long-time friend in a post on social media.

"I have known Grant for the better part of 20 years. In many ways, I credit him with my journey to becoming a member of Parliament," she said.

"When I was a list candidate for the Labour Party, it was your ranking on the regional list that determined your success. As the brand new candidate for Wellington Central, Grant was the hot favourite for the top spot. As nominations began, someone stood to put Grant's name forward. Almost instantly Grant stood up and announced to the room 'I don't wish to be ranked, until Jacinda Ardern is'.

Grant Robertson & Jacinda Ardern entering the House before Ardern's valedictory speech.

Ardern with Robertson ahead of her valedictory speech in Parliament last April. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"That story says so much about who Grant is. He is selfless, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and to top it off, one of the funniest people I know. As finance minister, he has so many achievements - the establishment of the wellbeing framework is just one of them."

Robertson also acted as the celebrant as Ardern's wedding to Clarke Gayford. She said Robertson was a champion of changing the way the government worked for people and the planet.

"And through Covid he showed such an intense commitment to making sure people were properly supported throughout. I can't imagine having worked with anyone better. Thank you Grant, we all owe you a debt of gratitude," she said.

Labour MP Megan Woods said Robertson had been an amazing colleague and friend and she thought he would go down in history as one of the country's great finance ministers, particularly after his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Grant Robertson and Megan Woods in 2022. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"He led our country through an incredibly difficult time, and never took his eye off the fact that people's lives were on the line with what we were going through," she said.

"Incredibly excited for him for his new adventure as well."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw, who announced his own resignation from Parliament at the end of last month, offered congratulations.

"He has been a true friend to me in this place and I've enjoyed every moment of working with him and despite everything that members of the government have said about him, I think that he is one of - if not the most - talented politician of our generation.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw

Green Party co-leader James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Wellington has a fantastic MP in Tamatha Paul and Grant did a fantastic job before her as the MP for Wellington Central. I want to acknowledge his contribution to the city."

Paul, a Green MP, offered her congratulations to Robertson with a post on social media.

"A big congratulations to my Wellington Central predecessor and all round good guy Grant Robertson for his new role as Vice Chancellor of Otago University!!" she wrote.

"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."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, speaking to reporters ahead of Question Time, avoided putting the boot in.

"Look, I just want to say to him today 'thank you for your public service'. He's had 15 years in this place both in Parliament, been a great servant of Parliament and also in government, we wish him well," he said.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Luxon had previously said Robertson was the "worst finance minister of all time".

"I don't want to get into that today," Luxon said. "It's a day where actually he's announced his retirement, and actually I just want to acknowledge that he's put service in there. We disagree with how he might have gone about it but we wish him well."

National's Finance Minister Nicola Willis was asked if she would miss Robertson, who had been a frequent sparring partner for her in the House.

She said they had some funny exchanges in Parliament and a lot of good debate.

"I will miss some of our exchanges in parliament ... I think we've had good fun together and now we enter a new era."

National MP Nicola Willis

Finance Minister Nicola Willis. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She did not think of him as a friend, but he was a colleague and "someone with whom I've built a real rapport and relationship," she said.

"While I've questioned him and questioned his policies and his party's approach, I have never had any doubt that his interest has been to serve New Zealand and New Zealanders, and I appreciate the huge amount of work and effort he has done in Parliament over the years."

Like Luxon, she also said today was not the day for the epithet National had previously applied to Robertson as the "worst finance minister of all time".

ACT leader David Seymour was less conciliatory. He seemed to regret Robertson's resignation, saying that "were he to be replaced by a more competent person, that would make it harder for the ACT Party".

ACT party leader David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Grant was a very good opponent for the ACT Party, we'll miss him and actually we're not sure what we'll do without him," Seymour said.

"We could always rely on Grant for great humour, but also great opportunities to point out what the Labour Party was doing wrong.

"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."

NZ First leader Winston Peters, the deputy prime minister, offered a mix of heavy criticism and well wishes.

"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 practiced as to what he should be able to do now. But I wish him all the best."

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters

NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He said Robertson had not handled the Covid-19 pandemic well at all.

"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 worked with Robertson as part of the 2017 Labour-NZ First government led by Jacinda Ardern.

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