Battle lines drawn at National Party conference

The battle lines have been drawn between Winston Peters and Simon Bridges, suggesting there's little chance that National and New Zealand First could work together at the next election.

Mr Bridges is facing one of his biggest challenges yet as leader of the Opposition, convincing his own party he's the man for the job.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard opened the National Party conference with a big ole whinge about last year's election result.

"A very disappointing and unjust, unfair political result," he called it.

Mr Bridges agrees.

"That result was a little hard to take."

It did secure Mr Bridges the leadership, and walking his party's gauntlet, it's a job he knows full well can be taken away.

"I don't expect the prime ministership to be handed to me on a platter."

If, like last election, Mr Peters has anything to do with it, it won't be.

"The chances of Simon Bridges lasting the next election - on the past National Party record - is not good," says Mr Peters.

"I'll tell you why Simon's gone - Simon's discovered so much of his past, a bit like Columbus discovered America, by accident.

"All of a sudden he's decided that he's a Māori. Nobody knew that before he got there."

Mr Bridges responded, saying, "Winston gets weirder and weirder by the day."

Mr Bridges says Mr Peters' focus is all skewed, and that it's not what Kiwis care about. Mr Bridges proudly pitches himself, and deputy Paula Bennett, as National's first Māori leadership team.

Mr Howard is his idol.

"John is my absolute hero - absolutely."

Mr Howard famously refused to apologise to indigenous Australians and denied genocide was committed against them.

"I'm not here to justify every aspect of his policy," says Mr Bridges. "I don't know that stuff in detail."