Cullen tipped for top SOE job

11:17, Mar 12 2009

Michael Cullen is being tipped for a six-figure salary as chairman of one of the country's top state-owned enterprises.

Top of the likely list is power generator Mighty River Power, Government sources say.

Chairwoman Carole Durbin's term in the $105,000-a-year role expires in October.

Another job option is at national power grid operator Transpower, where chairman Wayne Brown's term is up next month, coinciding with Dr Cullen's expected retirement from Parliament.

Mr Brown received $93,000 for the role last year.

Prime Minister John Key is keen to find a significant role for Dr Cullen, who has used his unrivalled knowledge of Parliament's rules and procedures to regularly embarrass the new Government and Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee.

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The former deputy prime minister was being considered for top level jobs because of his ability, one Government source said.

"We are not being tribal about this."

But the moves echo Labour's appointment of former National prime minister Jim Bolger to chair two state owned enterprises, New Zealand Post and KiwiRail, which Dr Cullen would have played a key role in brokering.

Mr Bolger's appointments were seen as a political coup, putting him in charge of NZ Post subsidiary Kiwibank and the expanded KiwiRail. Both initiatives were opposed by National.

Several Government-appointed chairs are up for renewal or replacement this year, including those at Landcorp, communications group Kordia, coalminer Solid Energy and Airways Corporation.

But sources said Dr Cullen would be offered one of the larger SOEs, to reflect his expertise and experience as a former finance minister.

Dr Cullen is also in line to win a role as negotiator for the central North Island iwi Ngati Tuwharetoa. However, that could raise potential conflicts of interest that would rule him out of the top job at Mighty River Power.

In 2004 Mighty River Power, which also owned power retailer Mercury Energy, bought the Kawerau geothermal assets from the Crown and on-sold the majority to Tuwharetoa.

Mighty River Power manages the development and running of the operation. Mighty River and the tribe have set up a joint development group to handle conflicts and consult over resource consents in the Lake Taupo-Waikato system.

The Dominion Post