Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has given a frank warning to National members that their support will be tested in the run up to the next election.
In a speech to National's lower North Island regional conference, Mr English said the Government was likely to make some decisions in the next 18 months that were not popular with members.
"On any given day over the next period, as you start thinking about the next election, the Government is going to be involved with some decisions that you don't like, some decisions you may disagree with. I want to reassure you about two things. The first is that all those decisions are being made in the context of the longer-term view, reaching our objectives over the next four or five years, not the next four or five days, and secondly that in my experience the Parliamentary team have very sound instincts about most of these issues."
He told Fairfax Media later he was not referring to any particular issue, but agreed the comments were in part aimed at party members who wanted National to make faster and more sweeping economic reforms.
He also acknowledged the speech came as the Government confronted controversy over proposals to allow mining on conservation land and race relations. The latter includes proposals to allow Maori to seek customary title to the Foreshore and Seabed and the Government signing a United Nations declaration on indigenous rights with no public debate.
"It's just part of the process of government that you're going to get a few of these issues, and it's really more to do with the fact that the National Party, particularly under John Key's leadership, has got used to being very popular, and it's pretty hard to maintain that level of popularity week to week, but not if you focus on the longer term results."
His speech came as he prepares to deliver his second Budget, which is widely expected to include measures to stop property investors offsetting their losses against income and other taxes.
The Budget is also likely to raise gst from 12.5 to 15 per cent, lower or scrap the top 38 per cent income tax rate and at least signal moves on company tax.
In an apparent plea to National supporters who want harder line economic reforms, Mr English said the Government would take a moderate approach.
"We get a bit of criticism for not being brave enough or bold enough or thrilling the nation with some large-scale restructuring.
"The experience of New Zealand is that if you go down the hairy chested path, you get to be hairy chested for about 12 months and then the public just shut it down ...
"We're changing that to considered and consistent change over time, and that will be reflected in the Budget. In our view, we will get more done for the economy by taking a broad public support with us along the way."
He also paid tribute to workers for the way they handled the recession, saying the willingness of many to work fewer hours and take less pay had helped save jobs.
"They've rolled up their sleeves, they've done what is needed, they haven't lined up outside MPs' offices looking for government to solve their problem."
"Working New Zealanders have not had the recognition they deserve for the way that in a collective sense, without it being a big deal, they all took that cut ..."
He said the economy was in much better shape than most others in the world, but there were still challenges ahead.
"The fact is the economy isn't great, but it's not Greece, and we should be pretty pleased about that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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