"It's time to renew the Kiwi dream," Labour leader Phil Goff said yesterday in his conference speech delivered under the huge banner of himself on the Aotea Centre stage.

The banner pictured him with tie off, top button undone, hands in pockets, half smiling and looking relaxed - an unnatural state for him.

But it epitomised the conference, which was more relaxed than most.

Last year the faithful were coming to terms with not only losing office after nine years and losing Helen Clark, but with the fact that Goff had to criticise some of the policies they had defended.

That is behind them. Clark is behind them. Goff began talking about being prime minister for the first time.

Goff and his image advisers are transforming him into a relaxed, ordinary guy who can get alongside the people who, as he said, have fish and chips on a Friday night, go camping every January and buy good second-hand cars - "nothing too flash but with good Ks".

This conference had humour and irreverence.

Australian author and former Wallaby Peter Fitzsimons opened the conference on Friday with a speech traversing his own mastery of sports, wars, politics and life.

In a serious moment, he said the flag of Australia should be ditched and the Queen should go as head of state.

In a less serious moment, he said that former All Black Eric Rush told him that when he met the Queen at Buckingham Palace he hadn't known whether to shake her hand or lick the back of her head.

As well as the classic tea-towels and raffles on offer, some of the merchandise for sale included the "Goff Father" T-shirt in "Godfather" style, and a homage to the first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, in Andy Warhol Pop Art style.

Former MP and Auckland Councillor-elect Richard Northey said the conference in Auckland felt a bit like the 1972 conference.

And that was a good thing, he reassured those too young to know. That year brought the election of the Kirk Labour Government. It lasted as long as Labour hopes the Key National Government will last - one term.

A year ago they would not have dared think it. Now they are dreaming it.