Winston Peters is expected to return NZ First to a tried and true formula at this weekend's annual conference by raising concerns about low-skilled migrants and calling for the Government to introduce targeted immigration.
About 200 party faithful will gather in Palmerston North today for the two-day conference, with the leader's keynote speech to be delivered tomorrow afternoon.
Mr Peters said New Zealand was continuing its policy of "mass immigration" and the quality of immigrants was not matching that of emigrants.
"I want to see a focused immigration policy based on what we need in our economy and I don't care where they come from, but that fills the gaps in science, research, education skills, medical skills.
"I want to see that sort of policy, not one that says we've got to keep the numbers up so we keep consumer demand up."
The Government believed in mass immigration because it drove down wages. "So they will never address it in an honest way."
Immigrants have been required to pass an English test since 1995. "But what's going on when I see someone in court that can't speak a word of English? How do they get in?"
Immigration has been a touchstone policy for NZ First, which appeals to its core voter base of the elderly and economic nationalists, but not one the party has pushed since returning to Parliament.
Mr Peters has a new demeanour since his return. Gone is the defensive and angry leader who was plagued by donation scandals and in its place is a relaxed and seasoned politician who is clearly loving being back in the bear pit of the debating chamber.
"I know that in 2008, if I could have got over the outrage of what was happening and smiled a bit more, we would have hosed back in. So I blame myself in that context."
Prime Minister John Key has recently softened his language about Mr Peters, saying he only ruled out working with NZ First for this parliamentary term.
However, Mr Peters said he's "not concerned about anything Mr Key says frankly".
"We never intended to be king-makers or anything of the sort. We are the only party which is not a Klingon and that puts us in a very strong position – we are the best bet for 2014 by miles."
He typically rubbishes recent polls showing support for NZ First under 3 per cent and below the 5 per cent threshold required to remain in Parliament.
Barbara Stewart is his only other MP with parliamentary experience and was chosen as party whip after the election.
The choice of deputy leader, and potentially Mr Peters' successor, was put off until the MPs "got to know each other better".
That isn't on the agenda this weekend but Mr Peters said it would be addressed "before too long".
Asked if there was a natural successor to lead the party occasionally referred to as "Winston First", Mr Peters said "the party's full of natural successors, loaded with talent".
Growing up on the Northland coast, Winston Peters says his family dog had so many rabbits to chase, it didn't know where to start - and Opposition parties are facing the same dilemma fighting issues the Government is under fire on.
"He sat in the middle of the field with his head spinning," he recalls. "That's what politics is like now, there's so much going wrong."
Apart from immigration, the main issues likely to be raised for NZ First at this weekend's annual conference, are:
Mr Peters says economic failures and the social consequences of the Government's decisions are the No 1 issue facing New Zealand. There was a growing divide between rich and poor, he said. New Zealand used to be envied for its equality and fairness. "That was the Kiwi deam and it is all in jeopardy now."
LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS
Expect NZ First to target plans to make it easier for local councils to merge and to limit the areas they can operate in, with former mayor-turned-MP Andrew Williams leading the charge. Mr Peters says there has been no consultation with local authorities or ratepayers. "People are having organisational structures rammed down their throats whether they like it or not."
RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE
Under the former Labour government – which had the support of NZ First – the minimum wage rose from $9 to $12 an hour. It's now "going nowhere", Mr Peters says. "You can't build New Zealand with so many talented young people shooting off offshore. Decent careers and first-world wages are the only thing that will keep them here."
Mr Peters has already highlighted questionable spending under this scheme, which he called a "bro-ocracy" – including $60,000 for a rugby club to research "whanau connectedness" and funding for family reunions. But he says there's more to come. "Every time we turn over a page of this investigation, you see gross prodigality and waste on the basis of supposedly trying to help people. We intend to put the kibosh on that."
DISCOUNTS ON WINTER POWER PRICES FOR THE ELDERLY
NZ First's legacy is undoubtedly the popular Super Gold card, which gives discounts to over 65-year-olds. Mr Peters wants one power company to offer elderly a 10 per cent discount in winter. "They will get their money back. If they line up enough Super Gold cardholders, they will not lose."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Are you worse or better off than five years ago?Related story: Pacific people suffering, say Sallies