Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

Grant Robertson quits politics, moves to top uni job

Thomas Coughlan and Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 11:27AM

Grant Robertson quits politics, moves to top uni job

Thomas Coughlan and Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 11:27AM

Former Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is retiring from politics and has taken up the role of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Otago.

Robertson, speaking to media, thanked his family in the Labour Party, saying he wouldn’t have entered politics without the party.

He also thanked Kiwis for the six years as a minister and 15 years as an MP. He highlighted his “friend” Chris Hipkins, saying it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do to tell Hipkins he was thinking about moving on.

Robertson didn’t believe his leaving would mean Hipkins would be more vulnerable. Robertson said Hipkins commented this morning how long the pair had worked together during Labour’s caucus meeting today.

“Fifteen years is a decent stretch here [in Parliament].”

“I gave every single inch of myself ... arguably maybe a little bit more than that,” Robertson said, admitting he knew he didn’t have much left to go any further in politics after the last election.

Robertson said he felt his greatest achievement was to steer the country’s economy through the pandemic. He recalled how forecasts predicted unemployment would breach 10 per cent and how he’d said he wouldn’t let that happen.

Grant Robertson announces he's retiring from politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell February 20, 2024
Grant Robertson announces he's retiring from politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell February 20, 2024

On dealing with the stress in the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Robertson said he went into it with no playbook, operating on values and instinct.

“I don’t regret saving lives and livelihoods.”

He said the toughest time he’d had in Parliament was during the occupation, given he was also the Wellington Central MP.

In a statement, Robertson said he was “extremely grateful for the privilege of being a Member of Parliament for the last 15 years. The opportunity to represent the people of Wellington Central, and to be a Minister has been an enormous honour”.

“The chance to make a positive difference in the lives of New Zealanders in this way is not afforded to many people. I have given absolutely everything I have had to these roles, but now is the right time for me to move on to a new set of opportunities and challenges,” Robertson said.

Robertson singled out his former colleague, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “who led our country through the unchartered waters of a terrorist attack and a global pandemic”.

“I was so fortunate to serve alongside Jacinda and Chris Hipkins as Prime Ministers and have huge admiration for how they performed their roles. I know I leave a Labour Caucus in good heart, with strong leadership and a clear focus on the issues that matter to New Zealanders,” Robertson said.

He acknowledged his friends and family, in particular his husband Alf.

Robertson said the Vice Chancellor role was “a very special one”, as he had once been a student at Otago.

“The staff at the University are incredible. The work they do teaching and researching and running the University is world class. I am relishing the opportunity to work with them, iwi, students, alumni and friends of Otago to build on 154 years of excellence and make everyone in the community proud of this institution,” Robertson said.

He alluded to funding challenges in the tertiary sector.

”There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead for Otago and the wider tertiary sector, but I am looking forward to being a constructive player in addressing those for the good of all New Zealanders,” he said.

The university announced Robertson’s new role in a statement at midday.

Robertson in a post on Instagram acknowledged how some people would feel “upset or even annoyed” by his decision.

”But I have given everything I had (and a bit more) to these roles, and I think you need to know when the right time is to go.”

“This is a huge day of mixed emotions for me,” Robertson said of his disappointment leaving Labour but joining Otago University. He wouldn’t elaborate on what his plans were for the university.

Asked whether he was sad not to have been Labour leader, Robertson said he had been sad when he first contested the leadership but after he was unsuccessful the second time, he put that goal out of his mind.

”I was sad at the time, but I got over it.”

Hipkins’ emotional tribute to Robertson

Hipkins congratulated Robertson on his new appointment and said he was confident he would be a good leader at the university.

Hipkins said Robertson lead the country through a time which included some of the most challenging circumstances any finance minister would have faced.

He said New Zealand’s debt level was low in comparison to many other countries and as such, had a exemplary legacy.

“Grant leaves with our very, very best wishes, he has made a huge contribution to New Zealand,” Hipkins said.

Hipkins said Edmonds, his new finance spokesperson, knew the economy was about people, which he said was important while holding that portfolio. He described her as a hard worker and believed she would “excel” in the role.

“It is an emotional day,” Hipkins said, noting that his two great friends - Jacinda and Grant - have left politics.

As he speaks, Hipkins eyes are getting red with the emotion. But he noted he was a “pretty resilient person” and said no one stayed in Parliament forever.

”We’ve got a job to do, I’ve still got plenty of fight in me.”

He is now running through the changes to the distribution of Labour’s portfolios, which the Herald has already reported.

Labour Party reshuffle 

Labour leader Chris Hipkins says Mana MP Barbara Edmonds will take over as finance spokesperson after the resignation of Robertson.

Of Edmonds, Robertson said she was a great person to become the party’s first female and Pasifika finance spokesperson.

“Barb is an enormously capable person,” Robertson said while dismissing the claim he was throwing Edmonds in the deep end with the finance role.

”She knows numbers.”

Hipkins is revealing his reshuffled line-up today, including Edmonds’ move to finance.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins remaining tight-lipped about the future of Grant Robertson. Photo / Mark MitchellLabour leader Chris Hipkins remaining tight-lipped about the future of Grant Robertson. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Hipkins said Edmonds’ background as a tax lawyer and experience as a minister as well as a staffer in ministerial offices gave her the necessary skills. 

“Barb is not only incredibly clever with a broad knowledge-base, she also has the interpersonal skills to work with people from every background across all sectors. 

“She will be a fantastic Finance Spokesperson and I’m looking forward to working closely with her in this role.” 

Barbara Edmonds, Labour MP for Mana, during her maiden speech in 2020. Photo / Mark MitchellBarbara Edmonds, Labour MP for Mana, during her maiden speech in 2020. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Despite the resignations since the election of senior MPs including Andrew Little, Kelvin Davis and now Robertson, Hipkins said his line-up would be able to hold the government to account.

“As this Coalition Government shows more and more that it is very big on repealing and very short on practical solutions and ideas, it’s important we have the right people in the right portfolios.”

Other new roles include Ginny Andersen in the Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations portfolio and Peeni Henare for the Māori Crown Relations portfolio following Kelvin Davis’ departure from politics.

Shanan Halbert – who recently returned as a List MP after Davis’ resignation - will take over Auckland Issues and a newly created Rainbow Issues portfolio.

Tracey McLellan will pick up the Corrections portfolio and Associate Health.

Glen Bennett – who will return on the list to replace Robertson- will be Labour’s spokesperson for Economic Development and Associate Energy.

Land Information and Racing will be picked up by Damien O’Connor and Tangi Utikere respectively.

The promotion sees Edmonds leap in the shadow Cabinet rankings from 11 to 4 - after Hipkins, his deputy Carmel Sepuloni and Megan Woods. Robertson was the 3rd ranked when he was in finance.

The other Labour MPs’ rankings remain unchanged in the reshuffle, which was primarily to fill the portfolios left by the resigning MPs.

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you