Hipkins sworn in as New Zealand’s new prime minister

(Update 1: Adds details, edits throughout)

Sydney, Australia, Jan 25 (EFE).- Chris Hipkins was sworn in as New Zealand’s 41st prime minister on Wednesday, less than a week after Jacinda Ardern unexpectedly announced her resignation.

In a ceremony at Government House, Governor General Cindy Kiro appointed Hipkins, 44, as the country’s new leader and minister for national security and intelligence, and Carmel Sepuloni, 46, as New Zealand’s first Pacific-origin deputy prime minister.

“This is the biggest privilege and responsibility of my life,” Hipkins said. “I am energized and excited by the challenges that lie ahead.”

Hipkins, who played a leading role in New Zealand’s hardline response to the Covid-19 crisis, takes over from Ardern in the top job and also as Labour Party leader.

In his first press conference as prime minister, Hipkins said the swearing in was an “immensely proud moment” for himself and Sepuloni as well as their families, but got straight down to business in what was also his first post-cabinet meeting with reporters.

“I’ve already said publicly that we will be reining in some of our plans, putting them on a slower track, giving us more room to move and greater capacity to focus on the immediate priority issues facing New Zealand, particularly the cost-of-living pressures that have been caused by the global economic situation,” he said, adding that more detail on policies will be released after next week’s cabinet reshuffle.

Wednesday’s unchanged inflation figure of 7.2 percent was not “not unexpected nor unusual, with many economies around the world feeling the same economic effects. We stack up pretty well against most of them with an inflation rate below the OECD average, but regardless of where we sit compared to the rest of the world, here in New Zealand household budgets are being stretched and we do need to do as much as we can to help with that.”

This was compared to 7.8 percent in Australia, 10.5 percent in the United Kingdom, the OECD average of 10.3 percent, and the European Union at 11.1 percent, he said.

“We will do everything we can to bring inflation down as much as we can but acknowledging those international pressures we will also be seeking to support New Zealanders through this,” he added.

“I absolutely acknowledge the pressure that Kiwi families are feeling, and of course we’re not starting from zero, we’ve done a lot over the last year or so.”

On Thursday he will meet with business community leaders in Auckland, and in response to questions said he would reserve any decisions on policy for now.

“I’m not going to start making announcements only a couple of hours into the job, so I think you will accept that will need to take a little bit of time to work through what our options are,” he said.

Hipkins’ first meeting with reporters closed out his first day in the job that Ardern announced her resignation from last Thursday, saying that she no longer had “enough in the tank” to go on for another term at the head of the country, as she did between 2017 and 2023.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of people gathered outside New Zealand’s parliament where Ardern, whose empathetic and firm leadership has been praised both inside and outside New Zealand, left for the last time as prime minister.

She went straight to Government House, where she formally presented her resignation to Kiro, New Zealand’s representative of Britain’s King Charles, to allow the transfer of power to Hipkins.

During her five-and-a-half years at the helm, Ardern steered the country through various crises, including the pandemic, the Christchurch terror attack and the deadly Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption.

She also became the target of unprecedented harassment and threats, especially by anti-vaccine mandate groups, although she assured on Tuesday in her final speech that her “overall experience in this job of New Zealand and New Zealanders in this job has been one of love, empathy and kindness.”

“I want you to know I leave with a greater love and affection for Aotearoa New Zealand and its people than when I started,” she said.

Her fiance and TV show host Clarke Gayford, wrote on Instagram: “I’m still not sure how I managed to hitch a front row seat in all of this but I remain as always; in awe, in love, relieved, exhausted and so incredibly proud of Neve’s mums superhuman efforts.”

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