The man tasked with rescuing New Zealand's incumbent Labour party and filling Jacinda Ardern's shoes as prime minister has a problem. Specifically, a popularity problem.
Chris Hipkins, the party's new leader and who will be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday, has a high-water mark of just 0.3 per cent in preferred PM polls – a reality that has seen him given the moniker Mr 0.3% by some in the media.
The 44-year-old's low profile is such that he often doesn't register at all in the regular polling undertaken by TVNZ and polling agency Kantar.
On several occasions over the last five years, zero respondents among the 1000 surveyed have nominated Mr Hipkins as their choice as national leader, AAP reported.
Incoming New Zealand PM makes appeal to voters
Mr Hipkins began his leadership tour to meet the Kiwi public on Monday morning, conducting five back-to-back interviews with breakfast radio and television.
"I think New Zealanders will give me a fair hearing," he told TVNZ's Breakfast on his rapid-fire morning.
Mr Hipkins said he'd never looked at his personal support.
"I don't know where we're starting (with my popularity) but I hope in time that people will see that I'm focused absolutely on the issues that they want me to be focused on," he said. "I've only just taken on this job. They will want to see what I'm going to do."
The TVNZ-Kantar survey, conducted at least six times each year, asks 1000 Kiwis to name, unprompted, their preferred leader. The number one choice in every poll dating back to the 2017 election has been Jacinda Ardern, polling between 30 and 63 per cent.
While it's natural Labour supporters may not have been looking around for a different leader in that time, Mr Hipkins' rock bottom ratings present both a challenge and opportunity for party strategists, nine months out from a national election on October 14.
Under Ms Ardern's leadership, Labour won a thumping majority at the 2020 election with the highest single party vote in over 70 years.
Hipkins tells media his family are off limits
Mr Hipkins — a working-class DIY enthusiast known for his love of sausage rolls — told Kiwis that he was going to bring different qualities to the top job.
"I may probably not be as polished as Jacinda sometimes," he said. "She certainly thinks so when it comes to my dress sense and has told me that on a regular basis.
"We're different people and we will have a different style and I'll let New Zealanders judge that."
In his five interviews, Mr Hipkins declined to answer questions on policy changes, saying only he would honour Labour's 2020 election promises and was working through those issues with colleagues.
Earlier, at a media conference on Sunday afternoon, Mr Hipkins revealed he and his wife had made the decision a year ago to live separately but to "do everything we can to raise our children together".
"We remain incredibly close, she's still my best friend, but we have made that decision in the best interests of our family," he told reporters.
The pair have a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, with the incoming leader imploring the media to leave them out of the spotlight.
While Australian leaders – most notably former prime minister Scott Morrison – have put their family front and centre during their time in public life, Mr Hipkins has vowed to take the opposite tack.
"I want them to be able to make mistakes, I want them to be able to learn and to grow without five million people looking over their shoulder. And so I intend to keep them out of the public limelight — you won't see pictures of them on social media or in the media and so on," he said.
with Ben McKay from AAP
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