Chris Hipkins says he will battle on as Labour leader as the party transitions into Opposition after Saturday night’s devastating defeat to National.
Hipkins said they needed “stability and continuity” and he didn’t want to “create a huge void”.
It came amid a busy first day back in Parliament on Tuesday, in which National, after its victorious evening, also had its first caucus meeting - a raucous affair with much expected celebration - and new MPs had their inductions.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER THE LIVE BLOG
There was little to update on regarding negotiations between National and Act. While they achieved a wafer-thin majority on the preliminary results, National leader and Prime Minister-designate Christopher Luxon has indicated they will wait until special votes have been counted, which could mean they need the support of another party, most likely New Zealand First.
Those final vote counts are still over two weeks away.
The day also saw the first resignation following the election, that of former Labour leader and senior minister Andrew Little, first elected in 2011, who said he wanted to step aside for new talent.
The day began with Hipkins confirming he would stay on as an MP for the next three years, but saying he wanted to sit down with the caucus before confirming if he would stay on as leader. As per the party’s rules there will still need to be a vote of confidence held for the leader within three months of the election. This has not yet been scheduled.
Several hours later, Hipkins emerged, appearing much more at ease than he had over the weekend.
“I’m certainly still the leader of the Labour Party,” Hipkins told waiting media after a lengthy caucus meeting, the first half of which was to farewell departing members and the second to cover the party’s next steps.
“I’ve still got a bit of fight left in me. I am absolutely committed to supporting Labour into Opposition.”
Hipkins said he was comfortable in his leadership, and the team had reflected on what they were proud of and what they could work on.
He said he had not been able to sit down and think about his position until after the campaign as he had only been focused on winning it.
He was committed to ensuring a “smooth transition to a new Government and a smooth transition into Opposition”.
Kelvin Davis would remain deputy leader.
Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Hipkins said there were many potential future leaders in the party and that it didn’t worry him.
Earlier, Hipkins had also spoken to some other big news of the night, his revelation about his new partner Toni.
“Toni is a very special woman. Just to be clear, Toni with an i,” he said, alluding to excited speculation at the time he may have been coming out as gay.
“I didn’t quite mean to trigger those sort of rumours on Saturday night, but we’ve known each other for a long time.”
Hipkins’ announcement came shortly after Little announced his retirement.
Little said he made the decision on Sunday after losing the election, primarily so the party could “straight away” start to build the talent that it needed ahead of the next Labour-led Government.
“Me stepping aside will make room for at least one more. But it ... expresses my view that the party now needs to think not just about what Opposition looks like, but what the next Government looks like.
“I am not the face of the next Labour Government.”
Little has held a vast array of ministerial portfolios, including Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and Minister Responsible for the Security Intelligence Service since 2017.
He was also Labour’s leader of the Opposition from 2014 to 2017, before famously stepping aside amid poor polling for Dame Jacinda Ardern, just weeks before the election campaign began.
Hipkins, who was an MP under Little’s leadership including when he stepped aside for Ardern, said he had had an “enormous amount of humility”.
“He has been an outstanding minister for six years, he led the Labour Party through a really difficult period after the 2014 election, I want to pay absolute tribute to the 12 years of enormous contribution that he has made as a member of our team,” Hipkins said, adding there had been no other discussions about other MPs retiring.
Meanwhile, Luxon walked victorious into one of his last caucus meetings as Opposition leader.
The National Party is beginning the process of packing up from the third floor of Parliament House, the traditional home of the Opposition, and moving to the Beehive.
He was greeted with applause as he walked into the room on Tuesday morning. Luxon joked that it was a very different circumstance to the one that greeted him and other new MPs after National’s devastating loss in 2020.
“This has been a bit of an empty room the last three years. I hope we’ve got enough chairs for everybody,” Luxon said.
Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon greets his caucus colleagues after speaking to media at Parliament. Photo / George Heard
For the third day in a row, he reiterated that he would be doing coalition negotiations “differently”, yet not giving detailed accounts of how they were progressing.
Luxon said he disagreed with the “blow-by-blow” negotiations going “through the media” following past elections.
He suggested that, contrary to what the other two negotiating partners might want, he was happy to take his time and run down the clock until special votes are counted before doing a deal.
“The approach is very simple, I’m going to use the next three weeks until the special votes are fully counted to actually progress the relationships and the arrangements with each every party, the way we work with them will be different,” Luxon said.
However, this is not exactly different to how prior negotiations were conducted. While in 2017, NZ First leader Winston Peters regularly spoke to media during negotiations, mainly because they were camped outside the lifts beneath his office, the leaders of the other two parties did not.
He said the only two portfolios that had been “locked in” were him as Prime Minister and Nicola Willis as Finance Minister.
This is at odds with remarks made in his Monday morning media round suggesting Mark Mitchell was locked in as Police Minister.
Luxon on Tuesday said Mitchell would make a “great” Police Minister, but the portfolio hadn’t been locked in.
Michael Neilson is a political reporter based at Parliament in Wellington. He joined the Herald in 2018 and has covered social issues, the environment and Māori affairs.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you