Who is Chris Hipkins, the man on the brink of being New Zealand's next Prime Minister?

Chris Hipkins is on the brink of being New Zealand's Prime Minister after emerging as the sole candidate for the Labour Party leadership.

Once tasked with guiding New Zealand through the harshest stages of the pandemic as the COVID-19 Response Minister, Hipkins now looks like he will have the tough job of steering the country through an economic downturn and crime crisis.

Hipkins, 44, is an experienced senior Labour MP who has taken on several high-profile portfolios over the past few years and has been described by political pundits as the party's "Mr Fix It"

The Labour caucus will now meet to endorse Hipkins' nomination. Given he's the only leadership candidate, his election is almost certain.

Born in 1978, Hipkins has spent much of his life in and around Hutt Valley. He attended Waterloo Primary School, Hutt Intermediate and Hutt Valley Memorial College - now known as Petone College - and completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in politics and criminology, at Victoria University.

Among his roles before becoming a MP were in the industry training sector and as a parliamentary advisor to Trevor Mallard and then-Prime Minister Helen Clark.

In 2008, he was elected the MP for Rimutaka, which covers Upper Hutt, parts of Naenae, Stokes Valley and up to Akatarawa ad Kaitoke. 

He has held the electorate - since renamed Remutaka - ever since. 

In 2020, he received the second-largest share of the vote for any electorate MP behind Ardern in Mt Albert.

Hipkins was the Labour spokesperson in Opposition since 2013 and moved to become Education Minister when the party entered Government in 2017.

In the role, he oversaw several large changes including abolishing charter schools and merging the country's 16 polytechnics into a single entity.

Ahead of the 2020 election, Hipkins was given the role of interim Health Minister after MP David Clark resigned. After Labour was re-elected, he became the COVID-19 Response Minister as well as keeping the Education portfolio.

In June, Hipkins left the COVID-19 portfolio and replaced under fire Poto Williams as the Police Minister. He kept the Education portfolio, however.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

The path forward

Outgoing Ardern led Labour to a landslide victory in 2020 but said on Thursday she was leaving office due to having "no more in the tank".

Ardern gained international plaudits for her leadership after the Christchurch mosque attacks and during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic - a response that was heralded around the world.

Since then, however, she had been criticised over the Government's handling of the chaotic anti-mandate protest at Parliament last year, being slower to reopen New Zealand's borders than many other countries and the mounting cost of living and crime crises.

Politics professer Richard Shaw, in a column for The Conversation, said the shoes needed filling after Ardern's departure were "on the large side of big".

"It's far too soon to tell, of course, if the country will buy a new narrative in which Ardern is not the key character," Shaw said. "But she is giving Labour every chance of having a decent crack at it."

Political scientist Bryce Edwards said earlier this week Hipkins was the "obvious" choice to take over.

Ahead of the leadership switch, numerous polls showed Kiwis wanted a Government change too. Still, an election won't be held until October.

David Seymour, leader of the Opposition ACT Party, said New Zealanders wanted "a Government that is focussed on crime, rising inflation, removing restrictions on businesses and allowing workers, and stopping the erosion of democratic rights".

ACT's fellow major right-bloc party National has held the lead in recent polls.

Nonetheless, the wider Labour Party has welcomed Hipkins' nomination.

Jill Day, Labour's president, said his nomination was "a seamless transition".