Nominations have closed, and there is only one name.
Less than 48 hours after Jacinda Ardern shocked New Zealand and the world by announcing her resignation, her successor as Labour leader and prime minister has been revealed. When nominations closed at 9am today, there was only one Labour caucus member in the mix: Chris Hipkins. The 44-year-old senior minister and MP for Remutaka is expected be endorsed by acclamation as party leader in a caucus meeting at lunchtime tomorrow. Jacinda Ardern will then tender her resignation to the governor general and Hipkins will be sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister.
Hipkins was the only candidate to receive the required support of 10% of caucus, or seven MPs. It means Labour achieves the “quick and decisive” transition that party president Jill Day urged. Hipkins had yesterday said, “I think if we can reach a consensus and then really unite as a team behind a new leader that’s going to be far better for New Zealand.”
Nicknamed “Chippy”, the former student politician is currently minister for education, police, and the Public Service, as well as leader of the house. He came to prominence for many, however, during his stint as minister for the Covid-19 response, during which he routinely appeared at briefings alongside Ardern and then director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield. He is likely to announce a front bench reshuffle in the coming days, with a general election looming on October 14.
In his maiden speech to parliament in 2008, Hipkins said of his success in the Rimutaka (now Remutaka) seat: “As a genuine Hutt boy I feel deeply honoured to have this opportunity to serve and represent the community that has given so much to me.”
He added: “Growing up in the Hutt Valley during the 1980s I saw, first hand, the impact the great rolling back of the state had on many of our families. Many of the kids I went to school with had parents who had worked in the public services and found themselves on the economic scrap heap, thanks to Rogernomics. Those parents struggled to provide their kids with the basics in life. Their problems were compounded when what little financial support they did receive was cut by the incoming National government in its now infamous ‘mother of all Budgets’. Like mine, they were loving parents who wanted the best for their kids. I utterly reject the notion that they could have got ahead, if only they had worked harder. They had no jobs, and there were no jobs to get. In many cases they had only minimal skills and qualifications and there was no support available to gain any. As a society, we simply turned our backs on them.”
In 1997 he was among a group of Victoria University of Wellington students arrested during a protest against education reforms at parliament. The arrests were successfully challenged in a protracted legal battle, and the parliamentary speaker formally apologised 12 years later.
“We were peaceful and we sat down, but the police arrested us and took us to the station. I was one of the first to be arrested and one of the last to be released. They let me out at around 3am and, as a teenager from the Hutt, I had no way of getting back home at the time,” Hipkins told Stuff in 2009. “To remove someone’s right to protest, you’ve got to have a very good reason. We weren’t harming anyone or destroying property, we were peaceful. The District [Court] and later High Court agreed with us and confirmed that what we’d been trying to do was not wrong.”
Jacinda Ardern unexpectedly announced she was standing down as leader and prime minister at the party caucus retreat on Thursday. The deputy prime minister, Grant Robertson, immediately ruled himself out of the contest it triggered. Other MPs tipped as potential leaders, such as Michael Wood and Kiritapu Allan, are understood to have decided to throw their weight behind Hipkins in the interests of party unity.