National Party leader Simon Bridges says the focus this year will be on policy heft, appealing to voters in the centre, and building a vision for the party rather than boosting his own standings in the preferred Prime Minister stakes.

And as the caucus meets today for the first time this year, Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie is expected to front for the first time since police confirmed an investigation into a text message she allegedly sent to Jami-Lee Ross.

Bridges said Dowie had his support, the support of the caucus, and the support of her local electorate team.

"Let's acknowledge it would have been a tough time for her, but National backs her. Our job now with Sarah is to show the people of Invercargill what champions we can be for that area."


National MPs will meet in Hamilton for two days and hold sessions about policy, how to connect to voters through digital channels, and how New Zealand should position itself in an uncertain global environment and expected economic slowdown.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be the special guest.

National plans to release detailed policy documents this year on areas including the economy, law and order, infrastructure, education, health, and the environment.

"We will lead the policy debate this year," Bridges said.

"We're not going to wait for the Government that's been all about working groups and some vague talk and intentions."

Bridges said his leadership was safe, and brushed off suggestions of cracks in caucus discipline despite apparent leaks to media in December about National's internal polling.

He has struggled to find traction in the preferred Prime Minister stakes; in last December's 1 News Colmar Brunton poll, he had 7 per cent support - 1 percentage point higher than Judith Collins - despite 46 per cent support for the National Party.

But Bridges said this year was not about building his own personal brand.


"I don't view leadership as some kind of beauty or popularity contest. It's about leading National to a very clear vision and plan before the next election.

"That's my strategy. I'm happy to leave the glossy magazines to [deputy leader] Paula [Bennett] and others. They do a fantastic job of it for the most part. I think New Zealand has very serious issues and it needs a serious approach from me.

"It's a team with a vision and plan that will win the next election, not an individual."

He said he had no intention to pull National to the right.

"National wins in the centre of the field. We're a centre-right party."

National held a Have Your Say public consultation last year and will do so again this year, this time targeting young people.


Asked if National was making a concerted effort to target young voters, Bridges said: "We don't want to be weak in any area."

He doubted the name Jami-Lee Ross would feature at all at the retreat.

"We've moved on."

Last week, in his State of the Nation speech, Bridges pledged to index tax thresholds to inflation, have no new taxes in a first term, and repeal the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax and any Capital Gains Tax that the Government might propose.

Bishop to share views on international relations

Former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be the special guest at the National Party caucus retreat.


She will offer MPs her perspective on issues such as the trade war between the US and China, China's growing influence in the Pacific, trans-Tasman relations, and the impact of Brexit on New Zealand.

National leader Simon Bridges said Bishop's views would be valued as centre-right parties found themselves in a "very interesting space", given the divisions in the Liberal Party in Australia, the struggles that the Conservatives in the UK are having over Brexit, and strong opinions about US President Donald Trump.

Bishop stood down as Foreign Minister in Australia after Malcolm Turnbull was rolled as leader of the Liberal Party in August last year.

She put her hand up to replace Turnbull, but was eliminated in the first ballot.

Bridges said Bishop was invited by National's deputy leader Paula Bennett.

"She is a good friend of quite a number in the caucus. She is a great resource for us to tap into."