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Labour votes Hipkins as leader, Sepuloni takes over as deputy

Labour has voted to keep Chris Hipkins as leader, as the party comes together for its election post-mortem.

The caucus met in Upper Hutt to hold the leadership vote, elect the whips and discuss what went so wrong.

Labour's constitution requires the MPs to vote on the leadership no later than three months after the election. Under the vote, the leader needs the support of 60 percent plus one of the caucus.

"The caucus conducted a secret ballot to endorse the leader and I was successful in being endorsed as the leader," Hipkins said.

Labour not only took a drubbing in the party vote, but lost what had been seen as safe Labour seats and a swathe of Māori electorates.

Hipkins said the party was looking forward to the next three years in Parliament, nonetheless.

"We've got a big job to do as the opposition in holding the government, once it has been formed, to account for the commitments and promises that they have made, and for their own performance in office."

Hipkin said there was also an important job in going into the 2026 election campaign with a refreshed policy platform, "so a lot of work going ahead of us".

Asked if it was time to refresh the leadership, Hipkins said "no".

"We've only actually - between the two of us - effectively been in these roles for nine months now. 2023 was a tough election campaign for us."

Hipkins said they would take some time to reflect on the election defeat, "but we know that many of the seeds of our defeat were sown well before we became the election team".

He said it was a secret vote, but there was no indication that anyone would not be endorsing his leadership.

Listening and reconnecting with the communities that Labour represented was also important, he said.

It remained his intention to be the Labour leader going into the 2026 election.

New deputy leader

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Party Leader Kelvin Davis speak to media following the resignation of Meka Whaitiri

Kelvin Davis and Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Carmel Sepuloni was voted the party's new deputy, taking over from Kelvin Davis, who had previously indicated he did not want to stay in the role.

Asked about what the deputy's job was about for her Sepuloni said it was about relationships within caucus, within the party and with stakeholders.

Hipkins said Davis still wanted to contribute and be part of the team, but did not want a frontline role.

"We've had a range of conversations about policy issues and where we go from here."

Hipkins said the caucus needed a period of time to debrief and consider what went well and what did not.

'Everything comes back onto the table'

Asked about a potential wealth tax, Hipkins said the caucus had a brief conversation about tax.

"I have also been clear with the caucus - we lost and that means we start again, and that means everything comes back onto the table - and that includes a discussion around tax."

Hipkins said he was clear he was only setting Labour's tax policy for the next term of government, and any changes would only be after a mandate was sought, but Labour lost - so now everything was back on the table.

"We need to take stock, we need to go back, we need to refresh. I don't think that tax was the one issue that defined the outcome of this election, I think there were a range of issues."

Hipkins refused to say that his failure to rule out a wealth tax was a mistake.

But Labour needed time to reflect on the election result before announcing its policy priorities for the 2026 election campaign, he said.

Hipkins said the first part of Labour's opposition will be about looking at its six years in government and why they lost and also being in opposition.

No doubt Labour had a significant drop in support from end of 2021 and were not able to recover, particularly in Auckland and the issues around ministerial conduct did not help, he said.

Hipkins said Labour would wait until the new government was formed before any reshuffling.

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