Sydney, Australia, Jan 22 (EFE).- Chris Hipkins was on Sunday confirmed as New Zealand’s next prime minister and leader of the governing Labour Party.
After a party caucus vote sealed support for Hipkins, the sole nominee, outgoing prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who unexpectedly quit on Thursday, will tender her resignation to the governor general on Wednesday, after which Hipkins will be sworn in.
“This is the biggest privilege and the biggest responsibility of my life. I am energized and excited by the challenge that lies ahead,” Hipkins, 44, said in a press conference.
A father of two with the nickname “Chippy,” Hipkins is current education and police minister as well as leader of the House.
Previously, he was Covid-19 response minister, leading the country’s closed-border pandemic strategy, and often stood alongside Ardern during livestreamed daily press conferences.
Hipkins picked minister of social development and employment, and arts, culture and heritage, Carmel Sepuloni, 46, as the country’s first Pacific-origin deputy prime minister. The pair entered parliament in 2008 and Hipkins said he trusts Sepuloni completely.
“I’m incredibly humbled that @chrishipkins and my colleagues have put their faith in me to take up this important role,” Sepuloni wrote on Twitter. “I also acknowledge the significance of this for our Pacific community. I am proudly Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand European and represent generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage.”
Hipkins expects to make an announcement on a cabinet reshuffle next week, with Ardern’s deputy prime minister Grant Robertson set to remain finance minister.
The incoming leader has indicated policies will focus on the economy and cost of living crisis, as well as core public services such as education and health, ahead of the Oct. 14 election.
“My government will bring a strong clarity, sense of purpose and priority to helping New Zealanders through these tough economic times. Our focus will be on the right now and the bread and butter issues that people care about,” he said.
“Some people, many people, are hurting at the moment and we want them to know that we’re on their side.”
In the first two minutes of his speech, Hipkins also paid respect to his “very good friend” Ardern.
“She’s been one of New Zealand’s great prime ministers. Jacinda provided inspirational leadership through a quick succession of the biggest challenges our country has faced,” he said.
The pandemic, the deadly Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption and the Christchurch terror attack all occurred during Ardern’s tenure.
“Jacinda’s leadership has been an inspiration to women and girls everywhere, but it’s also a reminder that we’ve got a way to go when it comes to ensuring that women in leadership receive the same respect as their male counterparts,” he added, in reference to the harassment and abuse the leader has suffered during her two terms.
Ardern’s government put in place some of the world’s harshest Covid-19 elimination policies, such as snap lockdowns over few cases, shutting out many of its own citizens during the lengthy border closure, and vaccination mandates for some public-facing industries.
The strategy spawned detractors both inside and outside the country, as well as anti-vaccination campaigners and conspiracy theorists, but closing the borders allowed the protection of citizens until a high vaccination rate had been achieved, resulting in low death rates and hospital admissions as well as comparatively little disruption to the economy. EFE