Sir Michael Cullen and Mike O’Brien – The menace of the social investment approach! – Thurs May 4th – Auckland


The government has called its framework of social policy and austerity ‘the social investment approach’! It assumes current settings of economic policy and social outcomes must be held too but interventions can be taken when pressure builds for tweaks and minimal spending to save future costs. We do not respond to a housing crisis with a building programme. We do not alleviate poverty, we respond to vulnerable children by uplifting the child and let the parents flounder. Michael Cullen wrote a critique for the Treasury that he spoke about in the seminar at the end of 2016. Mike O’Brien has also written extensively on the dangers of such an approach.

Sir Michael Cullen, former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Minister of Finance, Minister of Tertiary Education, and Attorney-General. He was the deputy leader of the Labour Party 1996 to Nov 2008 and resigned following Labour’s defeat. Left Parliament April 2009, to become the deputy chairman of New Zealand Post from 1 November 2009 and chairman from 1 November 2010. Now resigned from there too. Born in London, Cullen immigrated to New Zealand while young, achieved an MA in history at Canterbury University and a PhD in social and economic history from the University of Edinburgh. From 1971 to 1981 he was a lecturer at Otago University, with a term as a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University from 1975 to 1976. In 2009, he received an honorary LLD from the University of Otago in recognition of “his contributions as an Otago academic and as a respected and highly influential politician”.

Associate Professor Mike O’Brien works at the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland. He chaired the Alternative Welfare Working Group in 2011 and held board positions at Te Waipuna Puawai and the Auckland City Mission and joining the Impacts of Poverty and Exclusion Policy Group for the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. He co-edited CPAG’s flagship publication, Our children, our choice: priorities for policy (2014). He has written Workfare: Not fair for kids?(2005) and The Impact of Debt on Low Income People, together with Poverty, Policy and the State (published by The Policy Press UK. See also: O’Brien M (2016). The triplets: Investment in outcomes for the vulnerable – reshaping social services for (some) New Zealand children. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 28 (2), 9-9.10.11157/anzswj-vol28iss2id220

Thursday 4th May, 6.00pm

TDB Recommends

Lecture Theatre J1
Auckland College of Education
Epsom Campus
University of Auckland


  1. Michael Cullen has severely dented his credibility as a commentator by presiding over a regime of asset sales and privatisation as chair of the board of NZ Post. I wonder how many people realise sales of Post buildings were among the very first asset sales under the current National government? In my neighbourhood, they sold a purpose-built, steadily tenanted building, to become a tenant instead of a landlord. Then, after a few years, lo and behold, the combined post shop/Kiwibank was no longer “sustainable”–not that we in the community were ever allowed to scrutinize the financial statements to back that up, despite OIA requests–and the services are now offered, on a diminished basis, at a private stationery store.

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