Grant Robertson retirement: Labour loses heavy hitter, leaving Chris Hipkins emotional

The Labour Party is losing one of its heavy hitters with former Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announcing he's retiring from politics.    

Robertson was also Finance Minister and said he's proud of the lives and jobs the Government saved during COVID-19, but his toughest time was also linked to the pandemic. 

"I gave every single inch of myself to the jobs I have had in Parliament, and arguably, maybe even a little bit more than that in the last six years in particular," Robertson said. "I knew I didn't have it in me to go much further." 

The man who steered New Zealand through a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis is leaving the building, signing off without regret, signing off with pride.  

"I remember the day when a briefing came over from Treasury and it said unemployment was going to go over 10 percent, and I remember thinking to myself, I am not going to let that happen." 

He said he found the occupation at Parliament "incredibly hard". 

Robertson told his caucus colleagues on Tuesday morning, but he'd told leader Chris Hipkins a while back. 

"One of the hardest things I had to do was to tell him that I was looking to move on," Robertson said.   

The feeling is mutual. 

Hipkins called it an "emotional day". 

"It won't come as a surprise to any of you, that Jacinda [Ardern] and Grant have been two of my best friends, not just at work, but in my life. Having had them both recently depart has not been easy." 

Robertson entered Parliament in 2008 alongside his mates Ardern and Hipkins. 

On Tuesday, Dame Jacinda - the former Prime Minister - shared that Robertson had played a pivotal role in her entry to politics. 

At a Labour list ranking meeting, Robertson was the hot favourite. As nominations began, Robertson stood up and announced to the room, "I don't wish to be ranked, until Jacinda Ardern is". 

He said on Tuesday that he really wanted "to make sure she got in". 

Robertson had a dream to be leader. He ran for it twice, once with Ardern as a running mate. 

He faced a barrage of questions the first time round in 2013 about whether New Zealand was ready for an openly gay Prime Minister. 

"I think they will judge me on my abilities and what I bring to the job," he said at the time. "I don't think they are very interested in my private life." 

He doesn't hold any lingering regret about not getting the top job.  

"I am very proud of what I did do and the role I played, particularly in supporting Jacinda while she was Prime Minister, is for me a really big achievement." 

Entering Parliament was far from his first foray into politics. He worked in Helen Clark's Beehive, and before that there was student politics as the Otago University student president in the '90s. 

He will be returning to Otago University to take up the role as vice-chancellor. 

"I am super excited about going home, about going to an institution that gave me an incredible start, it made me for my career." 

Hipkins has appointed Barbara Edmonds into the all-important and coveted finance role - a tax expert and the first female Labour finance spokesperson.  

"The reason why I came here was to provide a voice for those who are the most vulnerable."

Robertson leaves a Labour Party searching for its meaning, a party that got walloped at the election.  

"I have got a job to do. I have still got plenty of fight left in me. I am still feeling very energised about the job that I have got ahead," said Hipkins. 

"I have great faith in Chippy," said Robertson.  

With his two best mates gone - the task for Chippy just got all the more challenging.