Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Meet ‘Chippy’: New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins takes over from Jacinda Ardern

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It was Chris Hipkins sworn in as 41st Prime Minister of New Zealandfollowing the Jacinda Ardern’s shock resignation last week.

Mr Hipkins, 44, has promised Kiwis he will bring a back-to-basics approach – with a focus on the economy and what he has dubbed an “inflationary pandemic”.

He will have less than nine months before he can vote in what is expected to be a tough general election. According to opinion polls, his left-wing Labor Party trails its main rival, the conservative National Party, led by Christopher Luxon.

Governor-General Cindy Kiro, the King’s representative in New Zealand, led the brief swearing-in ceremony in front of his friends and colleagues, having previously accepted Ms Ardern’s resignation.

“This is the greatest privilege and responsibility of my life,” Mr. Hipkins said at the ceremony. “I’m full of energy and excited for the challenges ahead.”

Carmel Sepuloni was also sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, the first time a person of Pacific Island heritage has assumed the role.

After the ceremony, Mr Hipkins said: “It feels pretty real now.”

Who is Chris Hipkins?

Mr. Hipkins was born in 1978 in the Hutt Valley bordering the capital Wellington. He entered Parliament in 2008 as an MP alongside fellow future star Ardern.

Nicknamed “Chippy”, Mr. Hipkins became a social fixture in the Beehive, the prominent Houses of Parliament in Wellington’s political heart.

His love of sausage rolls was so well documented that police officers gave him a “sausage roll cake” for his birthday last year.

According to his biography, Mr. Hipkins is an “outdoor enthusiast” and particularly enthusiastic about “mountain biking, hitchhiking (hiking) and swimming”.

As his star rose, he became known for both his laid-back dress sense and trademark sense of humor.

The slouchy hoodie, wrap-around sunglasses and beanie he wore when he met the media over the weekend ahead of his inauguration ceremony caught the attention of Kiwis.

The outfit was later auctioned off by the Labor Party on Monday for $5,000 (£2,610).

Mr Hipkins is a father of two and took extended parental leave after the birth of his second child in 2018, becoming one of New Zealand’s first male cabinet ministers.

In his first press conference after being confirmed as the new Labor leader, he confirmed he has been separated from his wife for a year to quell speculation about his private life.

“A year ago, my wife and I made the decision that we are living apart, that we will do everything we can to raise our children together,” he said.

“We are incredibly close. She’s still my best friend. But we made this decision in the best interests of our family.”

Mr Hipkins served as Education and Police Secretary under his predecessor, but came to public attention during the pandemic when he was appointed Minister for Covid-19 Response.

During his 15 years in politics, he has become known as a political problem solver, taking on a variety of roles to try to iron out the problems created by other politicians.Mr Hipkins is seen as more centrist than Ms Ardern and colleagues hope he will appeal to a wide range of voters as Labor faces a struggle for survival within months.

A self-proclaimed “straight shooter,” Mr. Hipkins has put his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion.

During a New Zealand lockdown, he told people during a virus lockdown they could go outside and “spread your legs” (rather than stretch), a comment that caused cheering both domestically and internationally.

He poked fun at his slip of the tongue when he later attended a press conference with a mug that read, “Spread your legs, not the virus.”

He posted a picture of himself and the governor general at Tuesday’s ceremony, recalling another mid-air slip.

“In 2017, when I was first sworn in as minister, I made a joke when the governor-general signed my warrant that it was going ‘straight to the billiard room,'” he recalled, referring to the catchphrase from the Australian cult classic film, The Castle.

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