Chris Hipkins hopes Kiwis 'on fringes' now 'back off' from Ardern as she leaves Parliament

  • 03/04/2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has paid tribute to former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ahead of her last day in Parliament, while also saying he hopes New Zealanders "leave her alone" and let her get on with her life.

Ardern will deliver her valedictory statement on Wednesday evening and step down as the Mount Albert MP. Due to the proximity of her standing down to the general election, there will be no need for a by-election.

It follows her resignation as Prime Minister in January, citing a lack of energy to continue on in the role.

Speaking at his post-Cabinet press conference on Monday afternoon, Hipkins said Ardern led New Zealand "exceptionally well through some amazingly complicated challenges" and "New Zealand is a better country for her leadership". 

He noted that she led New Zealand through the March 15 shootings, the Whakaari/White Island eruption, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The pandemic alone, I think would be one of the biggest challenges any New Zealand Prime Minister has faced during their time in office," Hipkins said.

"I think that Jacinda led us through all of those with dignity, with humility. She had high levels of trust from New Zealanders during that period with good reason."

Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017 after her Labour Party formed a Coalition Government with New Zealand First, with confidence and supply provided by the Green Party. 

At the 2020 election, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Labour's popularity soared and the party became the first of the MMP era to win an outright majority. Ardern's personal popularity ratings were also very high.

However, that changed over the past year, with Labour falling in recent polls into the 30s. In some polls, Labour has been behind National. 

Hipkins said he believes Ardern can "have her head held high knowing she's given it her all to what is a tough job". 

Ardern faced abuse during her time in office, particularly from those opposed to COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates. 

Newshub revealed this year that threats against Ardern significantly increased in recent years. In 2020, she received 32 threats that involved police. That jumped to 50 in 2021 and 60 last year. Many threats against MPs came during the occupation at Parliament last February.

Ardern told Newshub last year that the protest was "one of the most challenging parts of the year" and said she worried about Parliament workers' safety during the "volatile situation". 

However, she's denied that the abuse and misogyny that she faced played into her decision to stand down as Prime Minister. 

Hipkins said he hopes "people will leave her alone and let her get on with her job". 

"She's given a lot to New Zealand and has now stepped back from that and I think the vast majority of New Zealanders already respect that," he said.

"I would hope that those who are on the fringes who perhaps haven't always respected Jacinda or the office that she held, I would hope that they would back off now as well."

He said being Prime Minister is a "tough job".

"I think we should accept that it was tougher for Jacinda as a young woman to do the job given that she was subjected to a much greater degree of scrutiny than men have been in the same job, a much greater degree of vitriol than men have been in the job."

He said examples of this have been seen around the world for decades, but it's only reached New Zealand in the past 18 months or so.