9 Aug 2013

National goes into conference buoyed by polling

8:35 pm on 9 August 2013

The National Party begins its annual conference in Nelson on Saturday unfazed by controversy over the Government Communications Security Bureau bill and buoyant about its polling.

The conference, one of the first National has held outside the main centres, will focus on building a stronger New Zealand for families. With a year to go to the next election, the party's message to its members will be to stick to what they have been doing and not get distracted by side issues.

Senior government minister Steven Joyce - a former election campaign manager - says support from members remains strong and he is expecting a positive response to the party's handling of the economy.

"They know the challenges the world faces and New Zealand's had to face and they'll think that on the whole we're doing a pretty good job navigating our way through it."

After four-and-a-half years of National-led government, Mr Joyce says, the party "couldn't ask ... for a better poll and support rating than we seem to be having at the moment through the public polls".

Backbench MP Cam Calder says the party's very healthy and in very good heart, and the handling of the Fonterra contamination scare over the past week is evidence of how well National works in government.

"I mean, if you look at what the Government's had to cope with and how they've coped with it, it's a very good news story."

Justice Minister Judith Collins doesn't expect the GCSB bill to come up. "My party members have never once raised GCSB with me, for a start. They're more interested in things like the economy, law, health, education - things that matter to them."

Resource management announcement expected

Finance Minister Bill English will be providing members with an update on the Government's partial asset sales plan since the float of Mighty River Power in May this year.

"I think the positive benefits are a bit clearer now," he says. "We got $1.7 billion of cash from the last sale; the next one will be bigger, and we are using that money for long-term investment around New Zealand - we don't have to borrow it."

Environment Minister Amy Adams is expected to make an announcement at the conference on Saturday morning outlining the next round of changes to the Resource Management Act.

Following feedback on a discussion document released earlier this year, the announcement is likely to set out the Government's decisions on planning, consenting and appeals, and any legislative timeframe.

And, of course, on the agenda this weekend is next year's general election, with a possible third term in government on offer.

If recent polling is anything to go by, National may have to rely on New Zealand First to form a government, as support for its current partners - ACT, the Maori Party and United Future - has been dwindling.

However, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters isn't making any commitment on that.

"We're not going to be answering any questions on the way through because until the voters tell us who's in Parliament and what numbers, all that is academic."