Act leader Rodney Hide says his party would allow mining in national parks and on high-value conservation land to unlock the "hundreds of billions of dollars" in wealth desperately needed to bolster New Zealand's flagging economy.

Delivering his speech to his party's annual conference yesterday, he accused National of caving in to the anti-mining lobby, and said the open-cast mine at Waihi was a tourist attraction.

Mr Hide said New Zealand was facing the toughest of times economically.

The recovery was still tentative, and in danger of being wrecked by a global oil price shock plus the enormous cost of rebuilding Christchurch.

"Make no mistake. We are on the brink. We need a steely focus on jobs and the economy."

He accused a "well-off middle class" - those with opportunity, jobs and money - of stopping developments which created jobs for those who did not have those advantages.

"We need to get a sense of proportion about mining," he said.

"What is wrong with a few open-cast mines? I find the scale of them dramatic and grand. Plenty of other people do, too."

National last year abandoned its plans to allow prospecting and potential mining operations in 7000ha of protected conservation land following a huge public outcry.

Mr Hide said Act would use any leverage it had in post-election coalition negotiations to reverse National's position.

The two-day conference was attended by about 100 delegates - about the same number as were at last year's, but many fewer than the numbers during Act's heyday.

Mr Hide refused to comment on rumours of a new centre-right party. He said he had learned it was best to focus on what he was doing, rather than what others might be planning.

Apart from the economy and the parlous state of the Government's finances, much of the conference was taken up with debate on Maori rights.

As one of several guest speakers to address the conference, former National Party leader Don Brash said he did not know why so many public events must began with a prayer (karakia) or lengthy speech in Maori, even if none of those present could understand it.

"Most New Zealanders these days don't say any prayers. Why should they have Maori prayers they can't understand thrust upon them?"

But he rejected suggestions he wanted to scrap the Treaty of Waitangi. He said the document had been ahead of its time. In 1840, the policy in Australia had been to "shoot the natives".

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

Another guest, broadcaster and former Alliance MP Willie Jackson, spoke on why Maori were entitled to special treatment. He accused Winston Peters and Act of playing the race card.

But Mr Hide said Act was determined to stop the country going down "the road to separatism" and would continue to insist on "one law for all" - something National had promised to uphold but had failed to do so.