New Zealand has a new prime minister. What’s his deal?
With nominations closed and only one name on the ballot, Chris Hipkins from the Hutt will be the 41st prime minister of New Zealand. Here’s his backstory.
He’s been a leader before
New Zealand’s new prime minister has always had an inclination towards leadership; he was head boy at his final year in Petone College, too. In case you couldn’t tell from his attire on casual Friday morning jogs, Hipkins, the current member of Parliament for Remutaka, grew up in the Hutt Valley. “[The Hutt] has always been home to me. I love the amazing outdoor spaces and activities we have,” he told the Police Association in a Q&A in 2022.
Before he was a prime minister, Chris Hipkins was a president – of the students association at Victoria University of Wellington, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in criminology and politics. He was president in 2000 and 2001. (Incidentally, this is a distinction he shares with former Labour leader and current cabinet minister Andrew Little.)
He’s been arrested
As a student in 1997, Hipkins was arrested and detained overnight while protesting the Tertiary Review Green Bill. It was his first protest. “It was going to turn academic entities into corporate entities, treat students as customers and we were protesting against that,” he told the Hutt News in 2009. The arrests were ruled to be illegal 10 years later after lengthy court processes.
He was in Jacinda Ardern’s political class
After working as an oil and gas industry trainer, policy manager and parliamentary advisor to Trevor Mallard and Helen Clark, Hipkins entered Parliament in 2008 – at the same time as Jacinda Ardern – replacing retiring MP Paul Swain. While Labour was in opposition, he became the chief whip of the party and spokesperson for education and state services.
He’s the minister for everything
As a member of cabinet after Labour’s victory in 2017, Hipkins became the leader of the house, and then picked up lots and lots more portfolios. He’s known for being absurdly busy with a wide range of portfolios. He’s been the minister for the public service and education since 2017, was minister of health for the second half of 2020, then minister of the Covid-19 response from 2020 until a cabinet reshuffle in 2022 saw him replaced by Ayesha Verrall when he became minister of police.
He loves Coke Zero
Hipkins, also known as “Chippy”, is notorious for his love of Coke Zero, and has been known to attend select committee hearings with a can in front of him. In 2020, former speaker of the house Trevor Mallard said that he wouldn’t want to spend lockdown with Hipkins because the then minister for health “appear[ed] to eat nothing much more than sausage rolls and Diet Coke.” As the minister for police, the police gave Hipkins an enormous sausage roll cake for his 44th birthday in September 2022. “Police intelligence gathering has reached new heights,” Hipkins said on Facebook at the time.
Hipkins is a dedicated cyclist, often riding the 30km from his home to parliament, then catching the train back (except when he is accompanied by journalists who get a puncture). He also loves cricket and possibly soccer.
He got married at Premier House
He’ll shortly be living there but in 2020, Hipkins married his partner, Jade, at Jacinda Ardern’s Premier House residence. Grant Robertson was his best man. He has two children; when he took extended paternity leave for the second child’s birth in 2018, he was one of the first senior male cabinet ministers to do so, and he told the Herald’s Audrey Young that he was looking forward to having time to cook roasts and fish pie. He has said that keeping his children out of the spotlight to ensure they have a normal childhood is particularly important to him. He also has a dog.
He is meme-friendly
Hipkins is also possibly the minister of memes: at a press conference as the minister for the covid-19 response, Hipkins advised those in lockdown to get out and “spread their legs” which was fodder for the bored, at home on the internet demographic, and also international outlets looking for quirky New Zealand stories. He was also possibly the first member of parliament ever to respond to a written question with a meme.