Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Shearer have started the parliamentary year by trading blows.

Mr Key began by saying the year had started badly for Labour, while Mr Shearer said the Prime Minister's statement was a joke that lacked a punchline.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters joined in, saying Mr Key's statement lacked aspiration, ambition or real solutions for New Zealanders.

Mr Key opened the first sitting day Parliament this year with his statement focused on the economy.


He announced more prisons will be turned into working prisons - all prisoners will be placed in a 40-hour a week programme of work and rehabilitation.

This was one of the main announcements made in his statement today that recapped on theme such as apprenticeships and housing affordability covered in his speech last Friday in North Shore.

Mr Shearer said Mr Key did not have a plan for New Zealand and his economic rhetoric had become tired.

"The relaxed, easy-going John Key is long gone. He's been replaced by Mr Angry, Mr Defensive," said Mr Shearer.

He said that under Mr Key's leadership, 180,000 New Zealanders left for Australia and unemployment reached 7.3 per cent.

"There are 85,000 young people not in work or education," he said.

"It has been the worst growth of any government in 50 years," said Mr Shearer.

Mr Peters called Mr Key's speech 'boring' and 'useless'.


"The best part of the Prime Minister's speech was when he sat down - that was the very best part of that speech."

"It's no use flapping your arms around like a penguin, Mr Prime Minister."

Mr Peters said young people were being forced overseas and being paid low wages.

"Unemployment is reaching crisis levels and little is being done."

Ms Turei said Mr Key's speech did not reflect who New Zealanders were and said there was nothing in his speech offering tangible solutions to the big issues facing everyday New Zealanders.

"Instead of making us richer in the things that matter, they make us poorer."


"Their hands-off economic conservatism benefits their wealthy backers and runs counter to out country's proud history of economic egalitarianism and fairness."

Mrs Turei said the Government had also failed to protect the environment.

"Their short-sighted view of our beautiful environment, our rivers and beaches, forests and national parks as nothing more than irritating impediments to their exploitative economic agenda, is like stabbing a knife into the heart of our national identity.

"New Zealanders are finally waking up to what Americans learnt four years ago - if you want to destroy an economy, hand it over to an investment banker to run it".

She said IMF data showed the New Zealand economy had performed worse than the majority of countries in the OECD since 2009.

"The data shows New Zealand scored 18th out of the 34 OECD countries for GDP growth, 22nd for unemployment, 30th for the current account deficit, 28th for national savings growth, and 23rd for government debt."