Chris Hipkins says the opportunity to become Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand is the biggest privilege of his life and his eyes are wide open for the challenges that lie ahead.
Hipkins began a media briefing today by saying: “I can confirm that I have put my name forward to be the next leader of the New Zealand Labour Party and therefore the next Prime Minister of New Zealand.
“I am absolutely humbled and honoured,” Hipkins said about the Labour Party caucus choosing him. He was the only nominee to succeed Jacinda Ardern who announced her resignation this week after almost completing two terms as prime minister.
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“There is still a bit to go in this process. There is still a meeting tomorrow and a vote, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of that.
“I do want to thank them for the way the process has been handled. I do think we’re an incredibly strong team. We have gone through this process with unity and we will continue to do that.”
At 44, one of the group of strong young — but highly experienced — leaders in the ruling Labour Party, Chris Hipkins was the stand out choice to lead the party into the election on October 14.
The face of NZ’s covid-19 pandemic response from November 2020 onwards, he is currently serving as Minister of Education, Minister of Police, Minister for the Public Service and Leader of the House.
Hipkins said he was “incredibly optimistic about New Zealand’s future”.
“I am really looking forward to the job. I am feeling energised and enthusiastic and I am looking forward to getting to the work.
“It’s a big day for a boy from the Hutt,” he told reporters.
Labour’s Chris Hipkins addresses the nation. Video: RNZ New
“It’s an enormous privilege. It’s also an enormous responsibility and the weight of that responsibility is still sinking in.”
Hipkins said he would avoid comments on positions or policies today, because the process was not yet finished and he was not confirmed as Prime Minister yet.
Asked if Labour can win the election, Hipkins simply says, “Yes.”
He would not address speculation about who his deputy prime minister would be at this time.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being a minister in Jacinda Ardern’s Cabinet. I think the New Zealand public have seen the work I have done.”
He said he had dealt with some challenging situations and he made mistakes from time to time.
Addressing the journalist Charlotte Bellis MIQ case, in which he disclosed some of her personal details, Hipkins said he had apologised to her and considered the case closed.
“There is nowhere else in the world that I would want to live and want to be raising my kids” than New Zealand, he said. The country was navigating economic turbulence but would come through it.
“The vast bulk of New Zealanders are very proud about what we achieved around covid,” Hipkins says.
“Yes, there’s a vocal minority that would like to rewrite history but actually I think New Zealand as a country would be proud of what we achieved through covid.”
“I acknowledge that the lockdown in Auckland was really hard,” he said.
“I think hopefully New Zealanders know me as someone who is up front, doesn’t mind admitting when they’ve made a mistake, and can laugh at themselves.”
‘I don’t intend to lose’
Asked if he would stay on as opposition leader if Labour loses the October election, Hipkins said: “I don’t intend to lose.”
“I am here to make sure that New Zealanders who go out there and work hard to make a better life for their famlies can succeed and do so. … That’s what Labour has always stood for and it’s absolutely why I’m in politics.”
He said there was already a reshuffle coming. He had a lot of conversations with his parliamentary colleagues about the position once Ardern resigned and he was very interested in keeping a consensus.
Asked about Ardern being “burned out”, Hipkins said: “I’ve had a good summer break, I’ve absolutely come back energised and refreshed and ready to get into it.”
Asked for a little detail about himself, he said: “I grew up in the Hutt, my parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to give a good life to my brother and I.
“I like to cycle, I like to garden. Maybe I don’t have the best fashion sense in Parliament … but I am who I am.”
Asked about the abuse on social media that has been highlighted in the wake of Ardern’s resignation, he said: “I think there has been an escalation of vitriol and some politicians have been a subject of that more than others.”
He calling some of the abuse Ardern had faced “intolerable”.
“I go into this job with my eyes wide open of knowing what I’ve stepped into.”
“No one’s perfect, and I don’t pretend to be,” Hipkins said.
“Jacinda Ardern has been an incredible Prime Minister for New Zealand. She was the leader for New Zealand at the time that we needed it,” he says, citing her many challenges.
“Jacinda provided calm, reassured leadership which I hope to continue to do. We are different people, though, and I hope that people will see that.”
Hipkins said that if Grant Robertson was happy to stay as finance minister, he was more than welcome to remain.
Asked if he was willing to be called “Prime Minister Chippy,” he said, “people will call me what they call me”.
Hipkins said the Māori caucus would continue to play a pivotal role in government.
“I’ve got an amazing team to work with and I intend to absolutely make the most of that.
“It is the biggest responsibility and it is the biggest privilege of my life. All of the experiences that I’ve had in my life have contributed to this point.”
Asked if he believed he’d be prime minister one day, Hipkins said, “I don’t really believe in destiny in politics. I actually believe in hard work.”
Hipkins said he had talked to Ardern since the result became clear, and he would be sitting down with her soon as they needed to work out details of the transfer of power.
“I’ve had a lot of messages from my constituency. They’re happy to have the first PM from the Hutt I think for generations.”
Hipkins has also spoken to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“There are so many messages on my phone,” he said.