National leader Christopher Luxon has pledged to refresh centre-right politics, by showing New Zealanders how "deeply" his party cares about them.
Speaking to reporters at National's caucus retreat in Queenstown on Monday, Luxon proclaimed: "We cannot be an old, crusty National Party."
"What we have to demonstrate to the New Zealand people is we care deeply about them - we care deeply about education because that's a kid's shot at being able to make their Kiwi dream come to life," Luxon said.
"We care deeply about the vulnerable and the poor that are consigned to welfare for the rest of their lives, we have expectations of them, we want to be able to help them, we want targeted interventions to rise up and become independent.
"Those are issues that historically centre-right parties just stay in the world of economic management and national security and law and order. We want to go and have conversations on our biggest problems and be able to bring solutions."
But he's yet to come up with some policies.
"We have ideas but I'm not ready to talk about them publicly," Luxon said. "We're doing the thinking around that."
He suggested "earned income tax credits", "looking at tax thresholds" and how to "incentivise people to go back to work", but "we will think that through".
Luxon's comments came after he was challenged on the decision to invite Britain's former Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 until 2016, George Osborne, to speak at the National Party's conference.
The Conservative Party MP's first Budget, in 2010, delivered what one economist described as "the longest, deepest sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since the Second World War".
Luxon said the austerity cuts delivered by Osborne were justified at the time, because Britain - like other countries - was going through the Global Financial Crisis, and had taken over from a Labour government "who actually had managed the books pretty poorly".
Luxon suggested New Zealand was in a similar position, with the current Labour Government's spending "up 68 percent in five years", which was mostly spent on the COVID-19 response, including the $18 billion wage subsidy scheme.
He said his argument to Finance Minister Grant Robertson was: "If you fundamentally care about poor people, then you would be a fiscal conservative, you would be good with the economy, because the people that get hurt the most are the poor and vulnerable as a consequence."
It was a reference to inflation. The price of goods and services in New Zealand increased 5.9 percent in the last three months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to Stats NZ. It was the biggest jump since a 7.6 percent annual increase in 1990.
Economists agree that stimulus-spurred consumer buying is a reason for inflation. But it's not that simple. COVID-19 has also disrupted supply chains across the globe, and when too much money is available to purchase too few goods and services, demand outstrips supply, forcing prices up.
Luxon said he wants taxpayer money spent more carefully.
"We want to invest in our public services here in New Zealand. But if you don't have measures and targets and see whether you're making progress on them, [you're] just throwing money at problems."
Luxon took over as leader of the National Party in November - the fifth to take on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. His major challenge as leader is earning back public trust after various scandals that have plagued National in recent years, which no doubt contributed to its crushing election defeat in 2020 under Judith Collins.
Luxon said the reason he wanted Osborne to speak was to learn from him about how National could reinvent itself.
"How do you modernise a centre-right party? How do you make it relevant? How do you make it electable? What is the change that's required to go through that?
"That's been my challenge to the team since becoming leader, that we have to change. We cannot be an old, crusty National Party. We have to reinvent this party. It's got great principles and beliefs and we haven't been articulating it well to the New Zealand people and yet we have solutions, we have ideas and we care deeply about people.
"That's a normal process, where political parties have great success in Government, they then lose their way, and they've got to rediscover their way and rebuild and come back and that's the motivation for why we wanted to hear from the UK experience in 2005."
Luxon wants National to appeal to all New Zealanders.
"We will always be about believing that if we can create a good economy, that's a great way that we can lift people up.
"But, the economy is one part of the country - we have social challenges, we have environmental challenges, we have economic challenges. They all are actually interrelated and linked. And so it's not just as simple as, National does the economy, Labour does social stuff, and the Greens do environmental stuff. Those three issues are codependent on each other.
"We want to present a really credible, strong alternative Government to the New Zealand people."