Chris Hipkins was confirmed yesterday as New Zealand’s next prime minister and he chose Carmel Sepuloni as his deputy, marking the first time a person with Pacific island heritage has risen to that rank.
Hipkins got the unanimous support of lawmakers from his Labour Party after he was the only candidate to enter the contest to replace New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who shocked the nation on Thursday when she announced she was resigning after more than five years as leader.
Hipkins is to be officially sworn in to his new role on Wednesday.
He would have less than nine months before contesting a tough general election, with opinion polls indicating his party is trailing its Conservative opposition.
In setting out his priorities, Hipkins said he knew many families were struggling due to the “pandemic of inflation” and that the economy would be central to his government’s thinking.
When asked if he would take on the same transformational approach to government that Ardern had promised after first winning the top job, Hipkins indicated he wanted to get back to basics.
“We will deliver a very solid government that is focused on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to New Zealanders, and that are relevant to the times that we are in now,” Hipkins said. “2017 was five-and-a-half years ago, and quite a lot has happened since then.”
Like Hipkins, Sepuloni first became a lawmaker 15 years ago, and has most recently taken on the social development and employment portfolios as one of the government’s top ministers.
She said it was “very hard to fathom that a working-class girl” from a small New Zealand town could end up as deputy prime minister.
“I want to acknowledge the significance of this for our Pacific community,” Sepuloni said.
“I am proudly Samoan, Tongan and New Zealand European, and represent generations of New Zealanders with mixed heritage,” she said.
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