Last weekend I went to the National Party's annual conference in Auckland which was attended by over 600 people from around New Zealand.

It was Simon Bridges' first conference as National Party leader – and John Key's first one as a spectator.

The conference was opened by former Australian prime minister John Howard on Saturday morning.

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Mr Howard was also a part of the entertainment at Saturday night's conference dinner, where he was joined on the stage by former Sir John Key and Simon Bridges.

The light-hearted, yet informative, exchange of views and tips and tricks was MC-ed by deputy leader Paula Bennett, who played the role of interviewer.

Delegates were entertained by the off-the-cuff repartee between them all, and the occasional sharp one-liners about rugby results and sandpaper.

Mr Howard, who has just turned 79, is an impressive speaker. He spoke of New Zealand with genuine affection and certainly appreciates the value of the relationship between our two countries.

On Sunday we were treated to an address from Simon Bridges, who is also an impressive speaker. He gave a rousing address that included a bit about his past, an introduction to his present — including his wife Natalie and their three children — and an inspiring insight into his personal beliefs and his vision for New Zealand's future.

He acknowledged that New Zealand had made great progress over recent years because of the principles National brought to government.

Among those prinicples are the belief in personal responsibility — that if you put in the hard yards, you deserve to reap the rewards — the belief in an individual's freedom to choose how to live their life; and the belief in enterprise as a way to create jobs, lift incomes and drive prosperity.

He also talked about the belief in a shared sense of social justice – a desire to give a helping hand to those in need.

He talked about the perception that on the right of politics we don't care as much as on the left, which is so wrong, and he described himself as someone with a very strong sense of justice. It is what drives him.

He wants everyone to be given the best opportunity to live life to the full – and that's especially important for the most vulnerable who need the extra support that New Zealanders want to give them.

He talked about the two sides of personal responsibility — we should do all we can to help people lead happy and healthy lives but, at the same time, if people choose not to fulfil their end of that social contract, there should be consequences, particularly in relation to criminal responsibility and also a responsibility to actively look for work if you're fit and able.

All in all, it was a great couple of days. Entertaining, informative and insightful and an excellent opportunity to share ideas and touch base with National's grass roots.

*Ian McKelvie is MP for Rangitikei