24 Jun 2023

National's Nicola Willis warns against 'lazy politics of envy'

2:18 pm on 24 June 2023
Nicola Willis speaks at the National Party conference, at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, on Saturday 24 June 2023.

National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis speaks to the party's annual conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. Photo: RNZ/ Craig McCulloch

In a rousing address to National's rank and file, the party's deputy Nicola Willis has warned against "lazy politics of envy", saying "reckless tactics" to punish the wealthy would divide the country and weaken the fragile economy.

She delivered the warning in a cost-of-living-focused speech on the first day of National's weekend conference in Wellington, pledging that her party, if elected, would turn the economy around.

"We will end stagflation, solve the cost-of-living crisis and get New Zealand growing again. We will stop the wasteful spending and put the government books back in order," Willis said.

"We will stop the despair and start the great repair."

National Party conference, at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, on Saturday 24 June 2023.

The conference on Saturday Photo: RNZ/ Craig McCulloch

Willis notably did not mention the Labour Party by name once - a stark contrast to the speeches at Labour's congress last month which focused heavily on National and ACT - though she did take aim at "economic mismanagement" and wasteful government spending.

The speech was deliberately directed toward New Zealanders burdened by the cost of living: "Even Kiwis who are doing everything right, who are working hard and being incredibly careful, are struggling," Willis said.

"If you feel anxious while you wait for the total at the supermarket checkout, if you dread the two days before pay day because there's so little money left in your account, if you've had to give up on your plan to buy a home, then know this: you are not alone."

Willis described rising interest rates as a "ticking time bomb": "when that mortgage bomb goes off, the whole economy will shudder."

She said people's tales of hardship had made her "so very determined" to win the election.

"Other parties might like to tell you they can fix New Zealand's problems by robbing Peter to pay Paul, that they will drag the bottom up by tearing the top down. Or that we'll all feel better if they punish the wealthy hard enough.

"The truth is those reckless tactics would only further weaken our fragile economy, scare our best and brightest away and divide us one against the other.

"As my Mum says, you won't make your own candle burn brighter by blowing out another."

Willis reiterated the party's promises to cut taxes and red tape and to invest in infrastructure. She also gave a guarantee that every budget she delivered would invest more in schools, hospitals, police and other "essential frontline public services".

Christopher Luxon speaks at the National Party conference, at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, on Saturday 24 June 2023.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon addresses the conference Photo: RNZ/ Craig McCulloch

The party's leadership team were earlier welcomed to the stage with a karanga, before Hamilton West MP Tama Potaka delivered a karakia and gave opening comments in te reo. The audience then stood to sing the national anthem.

National leader Christopher Luxon was then introduced by his wife Amanda as "my extraordinary husband" to a standing ovation from the 500-odd members in attendance.

Luxon delivered a short address before handing the baton to Willis: "we are so, so close... delegates, change is coming!"

Willis said Luxon had the intelligence, integrity and experience needed to "pick New Zealand up from its funk and turn it around".

"You'll do it in your practical, methodical, disciplined way. You won't stand for fluff, you'll set high standards, you'll demand high performance, and you'll deliver results. You'll do it with heart and with your inexhaustible smile."

Luxon will deliver his keynote speech to party members on Sunday, where he is expected to unveil a policy in the law and order space. Campaign chairperson Chris Bishop and president Sylvia Wood will also speak to party faithful.

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