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Carmel Sepuloni and Chris Hipkins (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)
Carmel Sepuloni and Chris Hipkins (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)

PoliticsJanuary 22, 2023

A beginner’s guide to Carmel Sepuloni, our new deputy prime minister

Carmel Sepuloni and Chris Hipkins (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)
Carmel Sepuloni and Chris Hipkins (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)

New Zealand has a new deputy prime minister. What’s her deal?

New prime minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed that Carmel Sepuloni will take up the role of deputy prime minister. Here’s the backstory.

New Zealand’s first Pasifika deputy prime minister

Sepuloni has a Sāmoan-Tongan father and Pākehā mother. She has been involved with Pasifika communities throughout her time in parliament, and spoke today of her father, who came to New Zealand from Sāmoa to work as a young man.

“To think that he could come here and work on the railways then the freezing works, marry a sheep farmer’s daughter and have a daughter who would become the deputy prime minister of New Zealand is very difficult to comprehend.”

A Westie to complement the Hutt boy

Sepuloni was born in Waitara, Taranaki and now resides in west Auckland as the MP for Kelston. Hipkins noted in his press conference introduction that the two sensibilities would complement each other well in the country’s highest office.

An education background

Sepuloni studied education in Auckland, graduating with a bachelor of education and a post-graduate diploma in education. Before entering politics, she taught in Sāmoa and in Auckland in a variety of settings. Despite that, she has remained in the social development portfolio rather than education while in government.

Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

Lost then won then lost again in 2011

In what was the closest electorate race in 2011 (and maybe all time?), Sepuloni took on Paula Bennett in the Waitākere electorate. On election night, Bennett had “won” by 349 votes. But after special votes were counted, Sepuloni and was declared the winner by 11 votes. Bennett appealed the decision and, after a judicial recount, was declared the winner by nine votes. As a result, Sepuloni (formerly a list MP) was out of parliament altogether. She returned in 2014, winning the Kelston electorate.

Buys carrots

Sepuloni went a little bit viral in 2021 after her Zoom interview with Radio Samoa was interrupted by her son, showing off a deformed carrot.

Relatively quiet

Some politicians are more visible than others. Sepuloni has, until now, operated relatively quietly as social development minister, minister for ACC and minister for arts, culture and heritage. That is, of course, about to change.

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