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National Faithful Told Not To Rest On Laurels

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Aug 1 NZPA - Outgoing National Party president Judy Kirk has told party faithful not to rest on their laurels and that they need to prepare for the 2011 election.

Party members are gathering in Christchurch this weekend to celebrate their return to Government and to elect a new president for the first time in seven years.

The party's 73rd annual conference is the first major party meeting since National swept to power last November under the leadership of John Key.

Mrs Kirk is also standing down after she was first elected in 2002 and she leaves the position with the party in far better heart than when she first took office.

The 2002 election left National decimated with a low party vote, demoralised membership and the caucus shrunk to a small core.

In her message to the conference, Mrs Kirk said she was proud that the party had been rebuilt, the caucus rejuvenated and returned to government with the highest ever party vote under MMP.

"It is essential that we don't rest on our laurels. We must keep the party strong and in good health," Mrs Kirk said.

"Our work is never fully done, the campaign continues. The party vote must always be the target ... Where we forgot the importance of the party vote, we got walloped. When we paid attention to its importance, we had a stunning win."

Mrs Kirk said rebuilding the party had been a long arduous task but one she never thought was unachievable.

"It is the first time that we have met as a party to celebrate National's election win last year and the first time in a decade that we can welcome a prime minister to our conference," Mrs Kirk said.

The conference would also focus on working towards the 2011 election and the first step would be to elect a president.

National reformed its constitution after a particularly divisive presidential election brought Michelle Boag to power.

Instead of a president being elected directly from the general membership, the membership now votes in an executive board and in turn the board elects one of its own to the presidency.

The board is made up of Prime Minister John Key, one caucus representative, the party's general manager and seven elected members.

There are five vacancies among the elected members with eight people seeking the nomination.

The candidate with the highest public profile is Wira Gardiner who served as lieutenant colonel in the army, and helped set up the Maori Development Ministry and the Waitangi Tribunal.

He parted ways with the National Party in 2005 when then leader Don Brash launched his Iwi/Kiwi campaign.

Mr Gardiner returned to the party and his wife Hekia Parata is also now an MP.

He was appointed a DCNZM in 2008 and will accept his knighthood later in the year.

Mr Gardiner's higher public profile makes him likely to win a seat on the board, but his election to president is by no means certain.

The board is elected today and the president tomorrow.

Today Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will give a centrepiece speech where he is expected to attack Labour for its economic record and tomorrow the conference will close with an address from Mr Key.

NZPA PAR il nb

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