Paula Bennett has criticised the Government's approach to gender equality, saying women should not be automatically entitled to senior roles because of their gender.

Speaking at the National Party conference in Auckland this morning, Bennett spoke about the importance of supporting women in politics and in business.

She spoke about how Former National Prime Minister Sir John Key "held the door open" for her by making her a senior minister.

But she railed against the Labour-led Government's gender quotas and its focus on women in executive positions rather than women in the poorest households in New Zealand. Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter this week set a goal of having women make up half of all state sector boards by 2021.


Bennett, who is National's women's spokeswoman, said: "I get that argument and trust me I do want to see more women on boards.

"But the ones I lose sleep for are the women who are getting up at three in the morning to clean hotels and leaving their kids at home.

"The ones that should actually deserve a campaign ... are the girls that don't quite have that same hope and aspiration and wonder what is going to come for them next."

In an apparently reference to Labour's attempts to make Parliament more friendly to mothers, Bennett said Parliament was not a sexist place.

Women MPs were given equal pays and equal opportunities, she said. Parliament's long hours made it difficult for MPs with young children, Bennett said.

"It's also kind of hard to be a dad too. So I'm not sure that really is a gender bias within Parliament."

But Bennett said the path to Parliament could be more difficult for women, and it was important to actively support in the early stages of their political career.

"Each of us has a responsibility to leave it better for those who are coming along behind us."


Before an audience of around 600 at the Skycity Conference Centre, National's deputy leader also sung the praises of Simon Bridges.

Organised attacks on the National leader by Government parties showed that he had them worried, Bennett said.

"Isn't how interesting how other parties are going against Simon?

"There is barely a day where the staffers are at the media trying to run Simon or me down.

"They must be pretty worried, ay? Why put that must energy into us if you weren't worried.She urged her party not to be deterred.

"We will not let them divide us," she said, accentuating each word by banging on the lectern.

Bennett also spoke about the importance of National staying focused on New Zealand households.

"Remember New Zealanders in their homes. I want you to think of them when you're debating policy."

She and Key used to talk about what mattered to "the Waitakere tradie", she said.

"We would just go 'What resonates for them?', those people who are desperately trying to get ahead under their own steam.

"How interventionist should a Government be? How much should we be in their lives - not too much."

"So stay focused," she added. "As Simon said, time is ticking by."

Bridges will speak at the conference this afternoon.