Follow the podcast on
New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins heads to Auckland today to woo business leaders after spending his first full day in the top job responding to the cost of living crisis.
Hipkins is due to attend a roundtable event hosted by the Auckland Business Chamber.
“I’ll be there to ask questions of them and to listen to them, in order to accelerate the important relationship that’s needed between business and government, in order to benefit all New Zealanders and to continue to grow our economy,” Hipkins said.
His Auckland charm offensive will bring him into contact with former National leader Simon Bridges.
Bridges, the Auckland Business Chamber CEO, said today’s meeting was good news.
“That in itself gives business some confidence. It’s a sense that this is where his priorities lie,” he told RNZ.
“I think he’s off to a good start, inasmuch as what he’s saying is he’s going to come back to the bread and butter issues.”
Bridges said the issues confronting Auckland businesses were around plans to curb inflation, getting more workers into the country - and concerns around law and order.
“I think it’s incredibly refreshing to see from a new PM that he gets it, that he gets it’s businesses that make an economy and actually allow governments to do the things that we all want them to do like fund better health, education, and law and order.”
Cost of living front of new PM’s mind
The cost of living crisis dominated Hipkins’ first press conference just hours after taking over the role from friend and longtime Labour colleague Jacinda Ardern.
- The Huddle: Chris Hipkins delivers first post-Cabinet address in office
- Guard of honour for Jacinda Ardern as she leaves Parliament for final time as PM
Exactly what Hipkins has in store to tackle the rising cost of living remains to be seen, something National leader Christopher Luxon latched on to, saying that simply changing the leader was not going to make a difference.
Indeed Hipkins’ first appearance since being sworn in by Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro as the country’s 41st Prime Minister came hot off the latest consumer price index showing inflation remained at 7.2 per cent - the same as the previous quarter - reflecting further pressure on household budgets across the country.
Kiro had earlier received the resignation of Ardern, officially handing over what Hipkins called the “baton of responsibility”.
The day started with emotional scenes as Ardern left the Beehive as Prime Minister for the last time, walking out to a crowd of her ministers, MPs and staff, sharing hugs and tears - Ardern, accompanied by fiance Clarke Gayford, even struggled to find her way to the car through the throng of people.
Jacinda Ardern and then-incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins at Rātana Pa Marae on Tuesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
And like that after nearly six years of leadership marked through tragedy and crisis, with the mosque shootings, Whakaari and the Covid-19 pandemic, her tenure was over, making way for “my friend Chippy”, how Hipkins is affectionately known.
Hipkins too was emotional at Government House as he was sworn in, surrounded by family and colleagues, saying it was the “biggest responsibility of my life”.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins arriving for his first post-Cabinet press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
He also quipped afterwards “it feels pretty real now” - acknowledging just how rapidly he’d moved into the role after Ardern announced her resignation only a week ago.
The moment was clearly hugely significant also for Carmel Sepuloni, earlier shedding tears as Ardern departed before beaming as she became the first Deputy Prime Minister of Pacific heritage, with Samoan, Tongan and Pākehā roots.
Jacinda Ardern waves to the crowd one last time as Prime Minister of New Zealand. Photo / NZ Labour Party
In his first speech in the role Hipkins said “reprioritisation” of the Government’s work was the “absolute priority”, allowing the Government to focus on the “cost of living”.
“Today’s unchanged inflation figure confirms this is the right immediate focus,” he said, reflecting a shift in priorities over the past year as the health pandemic made way for a “pandemic of inflation”.
Ardern had last year also signalled a policy reset in the new year, with major and controversial reforms such as merging TVNZ and RNZ tipped for the scrapheap.
Even when asked if he, like Ardern, had any legacy issues such as climate change or child poverty he wanted to focus on, Hipkins reverted to balancing that with “the pressures of today”.
Hipkins noted the inflation level was not unexpected and was in fact lower than most comparable countries, which in turn influenced it here.
Hundreds of people waited outside the Beehive to farewell Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister. Photo / NZ Labour Party
Hipkins, however, said no decisions had been made on exactly what would be prioritised from the Government’s programme, nor anything related to the cost of living.
Hipkins said he expected to announce any changes to the Government work programme and Cabinet reshuffle in the next few weeks.
He also alluded to further opening up immigration settings to ease labour shortages, though the impacts of the most recent changes appeared positive.
“I just want to reassure New Zealanders that we’ve got this front and centre,” he said.
“I’ll be looking across the range of options to see what more we can do to support Kiwis.”
The Government last year introduced a fuel subsidy, which runs until the end of March, and cost of living support payments. It also introduced a fast-track residency programme, which it further expanded near the end of the year after initially excluding nurses and a range of other highly sought-after health professionals.
Jacinda Ardern was tearful as she sat alongside Speaker Adrian Rurawhe during her final outing as Prime Minister at Rātana Pā on Tuesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hipkins also spoke further on co-governance, after Māori leaders at Rātana on Tuesday called on the Government not to pull back work done to realise obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, and National to not be afraid of working with Māori.
Hipkins said the topic needed to be handled “maturely”.
“We should have a mature discussion about it, not one that’s informed by bumper sticker slogans.”
Asked if the Government had responsibility for not clearly explaining the topic and allowing fear to be sowed, Hipkins said that would be part of their new priorities.
“We should make sure that we’re informing New Zealanders, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins during his first post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Luxon earlier said he sent congratulations to Hipkins and acknowledged Ardern for her leadership.
But that was where the niceties stopped, as he criticised the Government over its handling of the economy and said nothing had changed with the new leader.
“It’s the same team, same people, same finance minister, same, everything, nothing’s changed.”
Luxon said the Government needed to rein in spending and lower costs for businesses - such as scrapping the income insurance scheme.
He also called for the Government to further open up the immigration settings, which drives the productive economy.
Meanwhile, the Government support party the Greens wrote to the new Prime Minister calling for a “fairer Aotearoa”.
They said the cost of living crisis was not being felt equally and urged him to increase benefits and make a fairer tax system targeting the wealthy.
- Michael Neilson, NZ Herald
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you