Incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins says his new role is the biggest privilege, and responsibility, of his life.
Chris Hipkins has today been confirmed as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister, pending the official resignation of Jacinda Ardern in the coming days.
Speaking to media, flanked by his new deputy Carmel Sepuloni, Hipkins said he had been humbled by the support of his colleagues and was excited by the focus and commitment they had shown to ensuring a speedy transition.
“We will continue to provide the strong, stable and focused leadership that New Zealanders expect from us,” said Hipkins.
Hipkins called outgoing prime minister Jacinda Ardern a “very good friend” and “one of New Zealand’s greatest prime ministers.”
He added: “She gave voice to those often overlooked in times of challenge and purposely went about doing politics differently. Jacinda’s leadership has been an inspiration to women and girls everywhere. On behalf of all New Zealanders, thank you Jacinda.”
It was a challenging time for New Zealand, and to be a new prime minister, said Hipkins, citing the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. “That’s where my government’s focus will be,” he said. “Our focus will be on the right now and the bread and butter issues that people care about.”
Hipkins acknowledged that many families in New Zealand were finding things tough at the moment. “The world is facing a new challenge: a pandemic of inflation,” he said. “I know that many people in New Zealand, many families are struggling at the moment.” The economy would be “right at the heart” of the government’s focus in 2023.
Hipkins signalled that some of Labour’s policies would be adjusted ahead of the election. “We’ll be making decision on refocusing on some of the most pressing priorities,” he said. He would be meeting with ministers in Auckland tomorrow to discuss some of these priority adjustments. “New Zealanders understand we cannot do everything and we certainly cannot do everything all at once.” It’s been widely speculated that the planned RNZ-TVNZ merger could be one such policy on the chopping block.
A cabinet reshuffle has also been scheduled for the week after next, though Hipkins would not speculate on any new portfolios. He did, however, confirm he would resign his current roles upon being sworn in as prime minister. Acting ministers will take on his existing roles.
Hipkins will be formally sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday ahead of chairing his first cabinet meeting. Before that, he will be in Auckland and also attend the annual Rātana events on Tuesday alongside Ardern, in what will be her final event as prime minister.
On the appointment of Carmel Sepuloni as deputy, Hipkins said he always knew that he wanted her to take on the role. The pair said that as a “boy from the Hutt” and a Westie, they were well-suited to one another.
Hipkins refused to answer questions on possible policy commitments such as whether the superannuation age would be moved up to 67 or if a capital gains tax would be back on the table. “I’m not playing the rule in or out game.”
Taking time to speak about family, Hipkins said he would be keeping his young children out the limelight and asked New Zealanders to respect that. He acknowledged the scrutiny his predecessor had faced and said he wished to keep his family life out of the media, confirming that he and his partner had chosen to live separately about a year ago.
Earlier, Hipkins commented on the oft-vitriolic treatment of Ardern. “It’s a reminder we have a way to go in ensuring women in leadership receive the same respect as their male counterparts,” he said.