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Chris Hipkins Says Cost of Living is ‘Absolute Priority’ as he Becomes New Zealand Prime Minister

Chris Hipkins Says Cost of Living is ‘Absolute Priority’ as he Becomes New Zealand Prime Minister – New Zealand’s newly appointed Prime Minister stated that addressing the rising cost of living is a top priority for his government, with this announcement coming on the same day as the release of persistently high inflation data. “New Zealanders will absolutely see in the coming weeks and months the cost of living is right at the heart of our work program,” Chris Hipkins said, in the first post-cabinet press conference of his tenure. “It is the number one priority that we are facing as a government and they will see tangible evidence of this,” he said.

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Chris Hipkins was sworn in on Wednesday morning as prime minister by the governor general during a ceremony in the capital, Wellington. “This is the biggest privilege and responsibility of my life,” Hipkins said after formally taking office. “I’m energised and excited by the challenges ahead.” The newly appointed Prime Minister will be facing a challenging start in his role, as on the morning of his first official day in office, statistics were released showing that New Zealand’s quarterly inflation rate remained at a high 7.2%. 

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This was primarily driven by elevated expenses for households, including rising rental and maintenance costs, higher food prices, and increased building expenses. Hipkins said that while New Zealand’s inflation rate was “not unexpected or unusual,” sitting behind the OECD average – but “regardless of where we sit compared to the rest of the world, here in New Zealand household budgets are being stretched and we do need to do as much as we possibly can to help.” 

In his first meeting with cabinet, Hipkins said he had told ministers to get work underway to reprioritise their policy load to focus on economic challenges. Quizzed by reporters on what specific policies his government would offer to assist New Zealanders struggling with rising costs, he said he was “not gonna start making announcements only a couple of hours into the job.” “We will be making haste. But I’m not going to be so hasty as to make things up on the fly,” he said.

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Although he spent a significant amount of time discussing economic concerns, Hipkins emphasized that other important issues, such as climate change, will not be neglected by the government’s agenda. “The fact that we’re dealing with a cost of living crisis and a whole range of pressures that are immediate doesn’t mean that climate change somehow moves off the agenda,” he said. “It continues to be one of the biggest intergenerational challenges that we face. So you expect to see my government continuing to make sure as we owe it to future generations that we do everything we can to tackle that challenge.”

Hipkins’ step into the prime ministership came after Jacinda Ardern said last week she no longer had “enough in the tank” after steering the country through natural disasters, its worst-ever terror attack and the Covid-19 pandemic. In recent years, her Labour government has faced difficulties in public opinion polls due to rising inflation, a potential economic downturn, and growing opposition from conservative parties. She made her final public appearance as prime minister earlier on Wednesday, where she walked out of parliament as hundreds of people spontaneously clapped.

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As the mastermind behind New Zealand’s pandemic response, Hipkins is now charged with improving the government’s declining public support before the upcoming general election in October. The father-of-two is nicknamed “Chippy” and describes himself as a “regular, ordinary Kiwi” from a working-class background who loves sausage rolls and cycling to work. “Covid-19 and the global pandemic created a health crisis. Now it’s created an economic one and that’s where my government’s focus will be,” Hipkins has said previously.

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