Key Points:

United Future is trying to shed its image as a party with a heavy Christian tinge and rebuild support by reaching out to all New Zealand families, no matter what their circumstances.

The rebranding exercise was flagged by leader Peter Dunne at the struggling party's weekend conference in Christchurch, attended by about 50 members.

Mr Dunne has always emphasised United Future has no religious affiliations nor evangelistic agenda.

But ever since his secular United Party joined forces with Christian-based Future New Zealand in 2000, the merged party has continually had to fight off suggestions its Christian MPs and members hold too much sway.

Although he did not refer to the Christian strand within the party, Mr Dunne told the conference that United Future, currently rating at below 2 per cent in the polls, must become more flexible and adaptive.

The party had to welcome "the vibrancy of diversity" rather than seeing it as something to be wary of. Asked if that entailed embracing gay families, Mr Dunne said it meant all families.

In particular, the party needed to reconnect with the "mortgaged in the suburbs" who felt United Future was not talking their language. "Sometimes we have appeared standoff-ish and looking down our noses at particular people. I don't think that is appropriate."

Mr Dunne also promised to tone down the vitriolic language he had directed at the Greens and work constructively with them; the public had reminded politicians that "old-style confrontation" was no longer acceptable.

In a further attempt to upstage Labour's other support partner, NZ First, and ensure United Future gets the credit for driving tax cuts, party president Graeme Reeves told the conference there would definitely be "meaningful" cuts for both business and individuals before the next election. He also slammed Finance Minister Michael Cullen's argument that cuts were not affordable as "simply nonsense" in the light of "unnecessarily massive" surpluses. "It is hardly surprising that cash-strapped New Zealand families want the gouging of their hard-earned income by the Government curtailed. United Future will deliver for them during this term."

As Minister of Revenue in the Labour-led Government, Mr Dunne is working with Dr Cullen on a major review of business tax. Three weeks ago, he too jumped the gun by saying there would be "adjustments" to personal tax.

Mr Dunne made no mention of tax cuts in his conference speech. Asked later whether he agreed Dr Cullen's arguments were a nonsense, he said a lot of work was going on as to what was feasible in terms of tax cuts. "The proof of the pudding will be in the eating."

Mr Reeves, who is stepping down as president, reserved his severest criticism for Auditor-General Kevin Brady and the media in regard to the party's $72,000 bill for unlawful spending of public money on election advertising.

United Future had acted in good faith and played by the rules but Mr Brady had changed the rules and, through no fault of its own, United Future had been lumbered with a "horrendous" debt.

Meanwhile, the media had whipped the public into a frenzy of politician-bashing and United Future had suffered "collateral damage".