The centre-right party wrapped up its national conference on Sunday with a glitzy coronation of Chris Luxon, the Air New Zealand chief executive turned party leader.
Central to the National’s election strategy is a tough-on-crime campaign, as described by party campaign chair Chris Bishop.
“This election is about law and order,” he told delegates on Sunday.
“Crime is out of control. Gang membership is up and we hear daily stories of lawlessness on our streets.
“Our future is being ram-raided.
“We will restore law and order, back the police, tackle gangs and make sure young offenders face consequences for their actions.”
Mr Luxon used his keynote address to highlight the plight of small-business owners who had suffered during a post-COVID uptick in crime.
“I’ve met many victims of crime and even more who worry they’ll be next,” he said.
“In some shops, it takes courage to go to work each day. Under a National government, New Zealand will be different.”
National is embracing a policy-rich campaign, releasing more than 20 policies in recent months under its “Get New Zealand back on track” slogan.
On Sunday, Mr Luxon unveiled its “Real Consequences for Crime” policy, a suite of law and order initiatives aimed to sure up its credentials.
Mr Luxon’s government would reduce judicial discretion in sentencing, enforce maximum penalties for third-time offenders, while extending rehabilitation programs to prisoners on remand.
Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan lambasted the policy, saying tougher sentences weren’t effective in stopping crime, and National was copying her government’s efforts on rehabilitation.
“It’s easy, it’s sexy to chuck out a line, ‘lock them up, throw away the key’, but at some point that person is going to come back into New Zealand and have to reintegrate,” Ms Allan said.
“It’s why you’re not seeing us come out and locking everybody up despite it being a simple yarn to say.”
The last man to take the Nats into government, Sir John Key, agrees the party is onto a winner by focusing on law and order, but says its not the only issue they are dominating.
“On the core issues – the economy, law and order, health, and education – there’s no question the National Party is seen in the eyes of voters as being far more credible,” he told AAP.
“Secondly, it’s about competency. Barely a week goes by when the government doesn’t lose yet another minister.
“I think they ran out of talent a long time ago. They are really running on reserves now in a significant way.”
Sir John is a mentor for Mr Luxon, the first-term MP who took the helm in late 2021, a year after their worst result in a generation.
Polling now has National on par with Labour, though Mr Luxon trails Labour leader Chris Hipkins in preferred prime minister polling.
Much of the conference was centred on Mr Luxon, with the release of a high-production value campaign video explaining his politicial motivation.
“I believe in us. I believe in you. And I believe in the spirit and the ambition and the promise of New Zealand,” he said.
Mr Luxon’s comments are in sharp contrast to those captured on a live microphone earlier this month, when he described New Zealand as a “negative, wet, whiny, inward-looking country”.