Winston Peters has spent his party's annual gathering lashing National while saying he won't be picking sides ahead of next year's election.

But it was the party's young members that looked to grab the reins on Sunday.

The New Zealand First leader took the stage at the party's annual convention for a 45-minute speech that mentioned National at least 14 times, just shy of the number of times it named New Zealand First.

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Not before a lengthy introduction, billowing music and a request for the audience to stand, though.

While mentioning a handful of broad policy ideas for next year's election, Peters spoke at length about National's record on economics, individual members current and past, and said it would have to reform if it wanted a Coalition deal in 2020.

"Unless they change, and we hope they do, a future National facing economic headwinds will embark on austerity policies, condemning New Zealand to more social fall out," he said.

"We hope they change but the fact is New Zealand First, right now, as a party of the centre, is the National Party, when it had a capital N – when it put New Zealand First."

So many times did Peters mention the Opposition that when he said "now turning to National", 35-minutes in, the room laughed along with him.

When a heckler interrupted to complain about police numbers, Peters accused them of being from National.

About 10 minutes later, the Right Honourable Peters – as attendees during the weekend called him - rejected he had spent a significant chunk of the speech on the Opposition.

"If that's all you saw in that speech, I invite you to go read it again because that is a road map for where we are going to go in the future as a party," he told reporters.


But Peters' master plan involves position himself as kingmaker again in 2020 and he concluded his speech noting his long-held stance that he wouldn't be picking sides or doing deals ahead of the election.

He made no repeat of a jab at ailing MediaWorks that overshadowed a similar speech on Saturday morning.

And while Peters earlier in the weekend popped out of the conference to meet gun-owning protesters calling on his party to halt the Government's upcoming firearms reforms, he had no plans to do the same for a few dozen Extinction Rebellion environmental protesters gathered at the front door on Sunday.

Their drum circle could be heard getting closer as the Deputy Prime Minister spoke.

An Extinction Rebellion protester dressed up as Winston Peters outside New Zealand First's annual convention. Photo / Boris Jancic
An Extinction Rebellion protester dressed up as Winston Peters outside New Zealand First's annual convention. Photo / Boris Jancic