Labour leader Phil Goff has admitted the party made mistakes with its so-called nanny-state policies as he tries to win back voters turned off by Helen Clark's regime.

Mr Goff said he wanted to "draw a line under the past", citing unpopular policies such as those telling people what size shower heads and which lightbulbs they could use.

"We'd stopped listening to what people's priorities were and seemed to be working on issues they thought were sideshows," Mr Goff said yesterday.

Labour's national conference in Rotorua, starting today, will be its first since the election loss and Mr Goff's first as leader.

The nanny-state image was a big factor in Labour's defeat and has been blamed for turning off voters who shared the party's core values but felt it was interfering with their lives.

Mr Goff said people thought Labour should have been more focused on what really counted for them, such as the struggle to make ends meet.

The Labour Government had engaged itself in too many distractions, such as the smacking debate, when the focus should have been on solving New Zealand's disgraceful child abuse rates.

"It is not about smacking, it's about giving the best possible start to our children."

Asked if he would apologise to the conference for the nanny state policies, Mr Goff replied: "I think we want to draw a line under the past and say, yes, we made mistakes, we didn't listen."

Mr Goff said the Labour Government had policies that had made a difference to people's lives, such as KiwiSaver and Working for Families.

"But too often there were things - whether it was something as minor as lightbulbs or shower heads - where people thought, 'You've taken your eye off the ball, this is not what we're worried about'."

Labour now had to focus on creating jobs and an economy that eased the burden on working families.

The conference will feature the return of prodigal son Jim Anderton, a one-time Labour president and MP who split with the party 20 years ago in a row over policy.

Mr Anderton's Progressive Party is edging closer to Labour, and his speech will be a symbolic moment for the party faithful.

President Andrew Little said there was no question Phil Goff had the support of the wider party, and the conference was his chance to "step up" and "stamp his imprimatur" on the party.

Mr Little said the party finances, to be revealed at the conference, were in deficit.

He said the party was under pressure financially and part of new general secretary Chris Flatt's duties would be to work on fundraising campaigns more innovative than letters to members saying "give us more money".

NANNY'S POLICIES
MOVE TO ECO LIGHTBULBS

A plan to implement a new standard for lightbulbs, which would have phased out incandescent bulbs following efficiency standards that had been introduced in other countries such as the US and Australia.

ANTI-SMACKING LAW

Before 2001, in response to a United Nations request, Labour began considering repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act, which said parents could smack their children as a form of disciplinary if the force used was reasonable. Green MP Sue Bradford brought repeal of the section to Parliament in the form of the anti-smacking bill in 2005, and it was passed in 2007.

RESTRICTING HOT SHOWERS

Labour tried to change the building code to govern the efficiency of water heating. Builders were to have been encouraged to restrict hot water flow through showers to 7.5 litres a minute in a small house, or 6 litres a minute in a larger home. The average shower delivers 13 litres of water a minute, but some can use up to 35 litres.