Plenty hanging on leaders' speeches

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013
John Key
Fairfax NZ
Prime Minister John Key
David Shearer
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
Labour leader David Shearer

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It has become a fixture of the political year - the annual jockeying for position with speeches by the prime minister and leader of the Opposition regarding the state of the nation.

Prime Minister John Key will seek to seize the political agenda when he delivers his speech in Auckland today.

Mr Key confirmed yesterday that he would be seeking to make a splash with an announcement on a new economic initiative.

He would not be drawn on details but National is increasingly under pressure on two fronts - a crisis of affordable housing and failure to get more Kiwis back into work.

"As you would expect, it traverses through some of the areas where we had real gains in the last four years, some of the issues we have to contend with, where our work programme is likely to be. "There is an announcement in the speech - I dont want to over-hype that but . . . I think New Zealanders will find interesting."

Labour leader David Shearer, who late last year announced a plan to build cheap homes to ease the housing crisis, is not expected to use his speech for a big policy announcement. But he is likely to criticise the Government for its lack of action on both the housing and job fronts when he delivers his own view of the state of the nation in the blue-collar Wellington suburb of Wainuiomata on Sunday.

Mr Key's Cabinet reshuffle signalled a far more aggressive push this year after a difficult year in which controversies, such as the ongoing Kim Dotcom saga and blunders in education, and ministerial scandals - including former ACC minister Nick Smith's sacking - dominated the headlines.

National's economic programme was also partially stalled by a Maori challenge to its flagship asset sales programme - which was supposed to free up billions of dollars for capital development - and slower than expected progress on the Canterbury rebuild.

Recent polls suggest National continues to hold a strong lead over Labour but party insiders say 2013 will be pivotal in deciding National's chances at the ballot box in 2014. Its support could wane if it fails to arrest a record exodus to Australia, or bring down stubbornly high unemployment levels. Mr Shearer is also under pressure to deliver a strong speech, after he faced down a mini-revolt over his leadership last year. But a vote on the leadership is expected to be a formality after one-time contender David Cunliffe confirmed yesterday he would back him in the vote next month.

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"I've already stated a number of times he has my full support. I am not challenging David Shearer."

Mr Cunliffe was demoted from Labour's front bench last year after Mr Shearer said he had lost confidence in his former economic development spokesman.

- Stuff

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