Hardline Key to rivals: Bring it on

UP CLOSE: A protestor face to face with police outside SkyCity Convention Centre, where the annual National Party conference was held.
UP CLOSE: A protestor face to face with police outside SkyCity Convention Centre, where the annual National Party conference was held.

National is telling opponents to bring it on, taking a hard line on its most contentious policies.

A heavy police presence was on hand yesterday as Prime Minister John Key opened National's first conference since the election, promising more than 500 party faithful there would be no backdown on asset sales.

Signalling plans to use its 2011 election mandate more aggressively to push through other divisive policies like mineral exploration and foreign investment, Key said National had campaigned on "a very clear plan" for New Zealand, and had the "absolute mandate and authority" to implement it.

But the fighting talk from the conference floor wasn't matched on the street, where police almost outnumbered 100 or so protesters.

As many as 80 police were counted around the SkyCity Convention Centre, where a command centre had been set up.

Protest organiser, Jai Bentley-Payne, said the group would be out again today, and would be joined by the Auckland Action Against Poverty group and members of Aotearoa Is Not For Sale.

He said media reports that yesterday's response was lacklustre were wrong, and the protest had been successful, with around 400 participants.

Bentley-Payne said Key's "mandate" talk was meaningless. "A quarter of the population didn't vote last year. We want to connect with those people."

Key will use his speech today to outline details about the Government's asset sales programme, and has confirmed it will include the likely shape of sweeteners, like loyalty schemes, to keep shares in New Zealand hands.

Fears over shares in state-owned power companies and Air New Zealand falling into foreign hands have polarised public opinion, but National has been emboldened by a lack of fallout in the polls.

Ministers are now preparing a charm offensive over mineral exploration.

Finance Minister Bill English painted a gloomy outlook, warning the effects of the global financial crisis hangover could last for a generation.

But Key said New Zealand was better placed than the rest of the world, and there were plenty of reasons to feel "pretty upbeat".

Meanwhile, party rank and file have backed reforms allowing same sex couples to adopt. The party's youth wing had been pushing for the 1955 Adoption Act to be extending to include civil union partners, and they scored a victory yesterday when a remit was passed during a closed-door session.

Today delegates will also debate the next round of welfare reform.

“We will be introducing social obligations, so they will have to enrol their child in early childhood education and get well-checks at the doctor by enrolling with the local PHO," Social Development Minister Paula Bennett told 3News.

“If you have kids, then you will lose 50 per cent of your benefit. That's the worst case scenario. We hope it doesn't get to that.”

The changes come just days after the Government voted in its first round of welfare reform, resulting in harsher conditions for beneficiary teens and solo parents.

Auckland Action Against Poverty welfare advocate Sue Bradford spoke out against the changes. “It's a worry that it's now possible for Work and Income to have total control over people's lives, and the lives of their children.”

Sunday Star Times