Labour leader David Cunliffe has delivered his first speech as leader to the Labour membership at its annual conference, issuing a rallying cry for them to summon "every ounce of energy for the fight of our lives, the race of our lives," the 2014 election.

Mr Cunliffe told the audience of about 600 delegates at the Wigram Air Force Museum in Christchurch tonight that Labour would put its heft behind the rebuild and highlighted insurance and housing as big issues facing Christchurch.

He said high premiums and profits going to overseas companies were two issues he wanted to address and he would make further announcements over the weekend.

He also said he was looking forward to the election year, describing it as 'the race of our lives" and gave a taster of the approach he will take against Prime Minister John Key.


"There's a growing gap in John Key's New Zealand between the very wealthy and everybody else. Instead of the Kiwi dream, we have the worship of the rich and powerful who are not content with the level playing field. They get a special deal in first class, while everybody else is back in cattle class."

He said Labour believed it could have an economy that was more equitable and had "big plans" for New Zealand. Mr Cunliffe also acknowledged his predecessor David Shearer, and his rivals for that job as leader, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson. He also thanked his caucus for their "professionalism, the camaraderie and the determination" - a tacit acknowledgement that he had not enjoyed strong support from them in the leadership contest.

"I'm so proud to be part of you and fighting for a Labour victory alongside you,"
However, there were some signs of the battle that was just behind him over Labour's leadership: Mr Cunliffe's predecessor in the role, David Shearer, sat in the third row for the opening rather than with other MPs along the front. Trevor Mallard, who was demoted by Mr Cunliffe, also sat in the third row with Mr Shearer.

And while Mr Cunliffe was given a warm welcome, it was Lianne Dalziel - newly elected Mayor of Christchurch, who was the people's favourite - getting a standing ovation.