The National Party wants all New Zealanders to demand a debate on race and the Treaty. But its own members will be stopped from doing just that at this weekend’s conference, writes political editor Jo Moir

Today the National Party will gather in Auckland for a three-day conference but not everyone is happy with what’s on the meeting agenda.

Terry Dunleavy is a long-time supporter and a co-opted member of leader Judith Collins’ Papakura electorate.

He wants to have a serious debate about the issues his party has been focused on in recent months.

“Two issues that need addressing is the He Puapua nonsense, and the Treaty of Waitangi being a partnership nonsense,’’ Dunleavy said.

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Collins launched a billboard campaign last month calling on New Zealanders to ‘demand the debate’ on government policies it thinks are being rushed through without consultation.

It includes the He Puapua report, which was commissioned in response to a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the so-called ‘ute tax’ and the Auckland cycle bridge.

But Dunleavy told Newsroom he has been pleading with the party to debate some of these issues, and so far, had no joy convincing anyone to put it on the agenda.

A National Party spokesperson told Newsroom that’s because the broad agenda for the 2021 conference was “agreed upon many months prior’’.

“It is always preferable to give members more time to debate issues that matter to them, but with the postponement of the Special General Meeting earlier this year due to Covid-19 restrictions in Wellington, we were forced to amalgamate the Conference, SGM, and AGM into one weekend, which you can imagine tightens the agenda to get through everything.’’

While there’s an opportunity to debate pre-approved policy remits this weekend, there’s a strict rule against being able to submit late ones.

A party spokesperson says that’s because “it would be unfair to others who have gone through the established process and requirements of our Rules and Constitution’’.

Dunleavy wants two new remits put up for debate to reflect the fact they’re live issues for the party.

But a party spokesperson says that won’t happen because the ‘Demand the Debate’ campaign “has only just started, and there will be plenty of opportunities in the future for members to debate these issues’’.

“We do our best to accommodate the issues that are put forward by a wide number of members at the time, rather than any individuals.’’

Dunleavy says the process for getting remits on the agenda needs fixing so there’s more opportunity to discuss relevant issues.

While he expects Collins will use her speech on Sunday to talk about the campaign, he’d like all party members to have the opportunity to debate it.

He wrote a provocative public blog this week entitled: “I demand the debate” and copied it to Collins, MPs and some media.

“As an eternal optimist, I live in hope that even at this virtual 11th hour, our Party leadership will get the message and find a way to allow at least these two remits to be discussed by delegates.”

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has been leading the debate on the United Nations declaration, and told Newsroom he’d be surprised if it didn’t come up given how much time Collins has dedicated to it.

“It would be pretty hypocritical if they didn’t debate it.’’

The conference starts today where party president Peter Goodfellow will deliver his speech and ends with Collins’ keynote speech on Sunday afternoon.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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