Nelson to host National's 77th conference

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 20/12/2012
Nick Smith and Russell Wilson
MARTIN de RUYTER/Fairfax NZ
CHEERS: Nelson MP Nick Smith and Nelson National Party electorate chairman Russell Wilson celebrate their party’s conference coming to Nelson in August 2013.

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With the announcement that the National Party will hold its 2013 national conference in Nelson, local MP Nick Smith is remaining coy about what the move means for his own political ambitions.

The party's 77th national conference will be held at the Rutherford Hotel in August next year, and is expected to bring an economic boost of $1 million to the region and about 700 visitors, including the full Cabinet, caucus, diplomats and national media.

Dr Smith said the announcement of the conference was a positive note to end on, after "a pretty challenging year" which saw him resign from his ministerial portfolios after it was found that he used a ministerial letterhead to write in support of a friend.

"Hopefully the worm has turned."

He refused to comment on whether the announcement was a vote of confidence that meant his return to Cabinet was on the cards.

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith is set to depart for his new role as High Commissioner to London, meaning a reshuffle is expected in early 2013.

A series of controversial problems in the education sector this year has some calling for Education Minister Hekia Parata to go, but Dr Smith, who has held the portfolio before, would not comment on whether he would want the position.

"They are decisions solely for the prime minister."

Education was an incredibly important portfolio, but "the prime minister's already got a Minister of Education", he said.

His first passion was in the area of natural resource management, but he had no view on the matter at this stage.

"I'm the old-fashioned type: when the prime minister says jump, I say how high. It's the only way a political party can operate."

Holding the conference in Nelson was more of an endorsement of the local party's work in turning the region from a Labour stronghold to a National electorate, rather than him in particular, he said.

The decision was also a strong vote of confidence in the Rutherford Hotel's new and expanded conference facilities.

"This is hugely exciting for Nelson and gives us a real opportunity to showcase all our region has to offer," Dr Smith said.

Delegates would also spend time at the region's attractions, including the World of WearableArt Museum, and the local art and wine industry.

"It puts Nelson on the map and will help ensure National and the Government understand our region's unique needs and challenges. The timing will be particularly welcomed by the region's visitor industry which struggles during the winter months."

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Nelson electorate chairman Russell Wilson said the local party volunteers would ensure the delegates were welcomed.

The party would also use the conference as a launching pad for the 2014 election campaign, he said.

A local organising committee would be formed next year to plan the conference.

The 2012 conference was held in Auckland, and this will be the first time it will be held in Nelson.

- The Nelson Mail

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