Keen to move on from the Todd Barclay scandal, Prime Minister Bill English dangled the indistinct prospect of a second family incomes package in front of voters in his first major speech of the election campaign.
English gave the final address to the National Party's annual conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in a rehearsal for the formal campaign launch on August 25. Cheered on by over 600 party delegates waving blue placards and singing a new campaign song called 'Let's get together', the Prime Minister laid out what he said was his vision for New Zealand into the 2020s.
"Before anything else, National will keep the economy front and centre of everthing we do because we know we have to keep the economy growing before everyone can share in the benefits," English said.
"A strong economy on its own lifts incomes, but of course the Government can also help. The budget's family incomes package was an excellent step forward," he said.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could do it again? Well we can. If we are able to keep lifting growth and carefully manage the public finances, we will be able to further reduce taxes and lift incomes."
Later at a news conference that soon became dominated by questions about the Barclay scandal, English would not give specifics on what a second family incomes package would look like.
He said the Government's first priority was to bed in the first package, which is due to apply from April 1 next year.
Another package would depend on lifting economic growth and managing the Government's finances. If those conditions were realised, there was the potential for the Government to do it again, he said.
"So you're not going to see a whole lot of specifics about a second incomes package before we've got the first one in place."
Unusually for a flagship address from a National Prime Minister to the party's annual conference, English's speech did not include any new policy announcements. Instead he highlighted the various announcements from last month's Budget and previewed more announcements on the $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund "in the next few weeks."
However, the address was overshadowed at a news conference afterwards by questions about what English knew about a secret recording by Todd Barclay of his staff members.
English acknowledged that Barclay had offered to let English listen to the recording, but English had declined to listen to it.
Newsroom also published more information on Sunday afternoon about how the National Party board knew of Barclay's unsuitability as an MP, but still allowed his selection.
Melanie Reid reported National Party President Peter Goodfellow was given a letter in December last year detailing how Barclay broke party rules during the pre-selection process. Eventually, National party members in Southland wrote nine letters to the board because they were concerned the board was not doing anything about Barclay.
Yesterday, board member Glenda Hughes declined to comment when asked if she had pressured Barclay's electorate agent Glenys Dickson to drop a police complaint against Barclay.
English would not comment on the Party's investigations into the complaints against Barclay and his pre-selection, although he acknowledged they may become part of any police investigation into the recording if it was re-opened.
Earlier, English had sought to contrast National with its Labour, Green and New Zealand First opposition, which he said was an "unruly alliance."
"A miserable group that finds growth frightening, that wants to shut down investment, shut down trade, shut down growth and shut down opportunity," he said.
"They would rather New Zealand slowed down to their pace."
English said Labour Leader Andrew Little had said it was "time for a breather," which referred to comments Little made about immigration.
"He hasn't even got into Government yet and he's already out of breath," he said in the best joke of the speech.