Don Brash has attacked the practice of public functions opening with a Maori prayer and claimed most people who call themselves Maori are actually a blend of races.

He has also unleashed a scathing criticism of his former colleagues in the National Party for their handling of Maori matters.

"Sometimes I think the Government cannot see other races but Maori," he told Act's annual conference today.

Dr Brash questioned why prayers - he was referring to karakia - were said in Maori at public events even when no Maori were present. "It's beyond me."

His comments, which drew loud applause, were something of a return to the themes of his landmark speech in 2004 on race relations which propelled him and National up the opinion polls just months after becoming that party's leader.

He read out an excerpt from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples dealing with self-determination - a document which was recognised by the Government last year following pressure from the Maori Party - before adding "what on earth does that mean?"

He insisted, however, that he was not someone who wanted to scrap the Treaty of Waitangi, saying it had been ahead of its time compared to Australia where they used to "shoot the natives".

That statement prompted one delegate to interject "let's bring it in", drawing gasps of disapproval from those sitting around him.

Dr Brash, who chairs the 2025 Task Force on lifting New Zealand's economic performance, said while New Zealanders continued to be "distracted" by issues involving Maori, the country had no hope of caching up with Australia in terms of personal incomes.

Earlier, the former Reserve Bank governor had said New Zealand was now at risk in economic terms "as never before".

Asked what he thought of Bill English's performance as finance minister. He replied that he did not want to talk about individuals.

However, he said Mr English was a member of a Cabinet that was clearly making some "irresponsible decisions".

Act's deputy leader John Boscawen had earlier fired a broadside at National, accusing Act's ally and partner in Government of failing to show the political courage to implement necessary, but unpopular reforms to fix the economy.

He told delegates that with the Government borrowing $300 million a week, the country was living well beyond its means.

"Sooner or later, the countries lending to us will demand a higher rate of return to reflect the higher risk - or will stop lending to us."

Mr Boscawen accused the Government of being too quick to dismiss unpopular solutions such as ending interest-free student loans where the incentive was to borrow to the hilt.

"John Key has said he doesn't want to take the big bang approach that Sir Roger (Douglas) did in the 1980s, preferring a slower and more incremental approach. The time for that has gone."

Incoming Act president Chris Simmons accused National of applying sticking plasters to the economic status quo, adding that John Key had squandered the reserves of political capital National had built up following the 2008 election and which should have been used
to bring real change to the economy.

"No vision is apparent," he added.