Who is Chris Hipkins? – Meet the man who replaced Ardern

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Chris Hipkins after being confi rmed as the only nomination to replace Jacinda Ardern as leader of the Labour Party, at New Zealand’s parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. Picture: REUTERS

New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins has become New Zealand’s next prime minister after he was the sole nominee for the Labour leadership vacated by Jacinda Ardern.

Ms Ardern shocked the nation of 5 million when she resigned from the prime ministership on last week calling an election for October 14.

Mr Hipkins, who is 44 years old, will have less than eight months in the role before contesting a general election.

Last Thursday, he said he respected Ms Ardern’s decision to step aside, describing her as “a voice of calm, kind reassurance and strength”.

Here’s what we know about the incoming prime minister.

What is Chris Hipkins’s current role?

Chris Hipkins is Member of Parliament for Remutaka. He is Minister of Education, Minister of Police, and Minister for the Public Service.

He is also Leader of the House. The New Zealand government’s official website says Mr Hipkins is a staunch advocate for the public education system and believes every child has the right to a free education.

“He places a strong emphasis on social justice and believes that every New Zealander should have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” his profile also states.

When did he rise to public prominence?

Mr Hipkins rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic, when he took on a kind of crisis management role. He was appointed Interim Health Minister in 2020 after David Clark resigned.

In November 2020, Mr Hipkins was Minister of Education, Minister for the Public Service and CO- VID-19 Response Minister.

A slip of the tongue at a COVID presser in August 2021 sent Mr Hipkins trending for his advice to New Zealanders to “spread their legs” when they go outside.

Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, could be seen smirking and raised his eyebrows as he stood next to the COVID-19 Response Minister.

When Mr Hipkins realised his gaffe, he said that the media would “all have fun with him later”. The politician himself got in on the laughs, taking a sip from a mug which read “spread your legs” at the beginning of a press conference the following month.

People took great delight in his emergence from a bush. “Good to see Chris Hipkins is getting out and spreading his legs this summer,” one tweet read. Mr Hipkins is also known for what he describes as a “weakness for sausage rolls”.

He was last year gifted a birthday cake made out of sausage roll. In more serious headlines, Mr Hipkins faced criticism after sharing personal information about journalist Charlotte Bellis who was unable to secure an emergency spot to get to New Zealand despite being pregnant in Afghanistan.

He then apologised for making inaccurate comments about her circumstances, and including her information in a statement about the matter.

“In terms of the Charlotte Bellis case, I’ve apologised to her and as far as she’s concerned the matter is closed and I respect that and I don’t intend to make further comment,” Mr Hipkins said on Saturday.

Where is he from?

Mr Hipkins was born in the Wellington region on September 5, 1978. He has spent much of his life in the Hutt Valley, which he says is “bursting with energy and potential”.

Mr Hipkins attended Waterloo Primary School, Hutt Intermediate and Hutt Valley Memorial College (later known as Petone College), where he was the head boy in 1996.

“I’m a boy from the Hutt, I grew up in the Hutt,” he said on Saturday.

He went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts majoring in politics and criminology at Victoria University. Upon graduating, he worked in the industry training sector.

Before becoming an MP he also worked at parliament, first as senior advisor to two education ministers and later in the office of then-prime minister Helen Clark.

He entered parliament in 2008 and became the spokesperson for education at the beginning of 2013.

What about his family?

Mr Hipkins married his wife Jade at the prime minister’s official residence in 2020, with finance minister Grant Robertson as his best man.

He has two children, a six-year-old son a fouryear-old daughter. They live together in the Hutt Valley.

“My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I,” Mr Hipkins said on Saturday.

“My commitment in politics is to make sure that we provide opportunities for all Kiwis who want to work hard, to be able to work hard and get ahead and provide a better life for themselves and their families.”