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CHRISTCHURCH - A National government would legislate for public ownership of the foreshore, ensure one standard of citizenship and time limit claims against the Treaty of Waitangi, Leader Bill English said today.



In a keynote speech to the party's conference in Christchurch, Mr English said Labour was marching New Zealand down the road of separatism.



He offered around 400 delegates a policy promising one rule for all "where rights come from a common citizenship, not from ethnic identity".

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The Government was backtracking from a promise to legislate to ensure public ownership of the seabed and foreshore, Mr English claimed.



New Zealand was a society of converging ethnic groups with shared values, that should be covered by a single set of rules.



Mr English pledged a National government would close the books on new historical treaty claims within a year and clear up the 900 claims on the books within five years.



He also repeated promises to scrap the Maori seats and end tokenism, but said National could still work with Maori groups



"National supports private and community organisations working with and for government.



"National's philosophy offers more opportunity, more of a fair go for Maori than political correctness and promises of partnership."



In the wide ranging speech, Mr English labelled Labour as social engineers that introduced taxes and levies by stealth.



National would end welfare dependency through policies such as work for the dole schemes and reintroducing work testing for some benefits.

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His speech repeated yesterday's calls for the party to stop navel gazing and venting frustration about being in opposition.



"Let's stop looking in the rear vision mirror. A country that wants to move ahead can elect National only if we are also looking ahead.



"Enough of debating the future of our party -- this weekend we debate the future of the our country."



Yesterday's conference opening saw Mr English's attempts to put the past behind National hit by yet another bad poll and an outspoken MP.



A TV3 poll showed many National supporters were still confused about what the party stood for and only offered limited support for his continuing leadership.



The poll found 62 per cent of National supporters were unsure what the party stood for, and 67 per cent felt Labour was doing well because National was not a serious alternative.



As Mr English tried to brush off the poll and look to the future, he was hit by maverick National MP Maurice Williamson refusing to backdown from his criticism of National and Mr English's performances.



Mr Williamson believed Mr English should stand down or be forced out if National remained below 30 per cent in the polls.



This morning party president Judy Kirk leapt to Mr English's defence describing him in a speech as a "fine young leader...intelligent, focused and determined. He is the first leader of the next generation".



While National was battered and bruised after the last election it remained essentially a good brand that reflected what most New Zealanders believed in, she said.



Kirk said National was the natural party of government, but needed to rebuild its election machinery.



"New Zealand is a natural centre right country and the National party is the natural largest party of the centre right."



Its core principals were shared by most New Zealanders. They included limited government with the individual left to get on with life; security through old friends and allies in other countries; low taxes and less red tape; a "caring but not indulgent" society with only targeted welfare support; and progressive social change not revolution.



Ms Kirk said National had spent the last two years getting back into shape after voters gave it only 27 MPs in Parliament.



To return to power, the party had to:



* roll out policy that defined National's values;



* train candidates for the next election;



* focus on the party vote across New Zealand which it failed to do so at the last election;



* Seek to win key constituency seats;



* rebuild the party coffers, membership and local organisations.



Ms Kirk was appointed president after Michelle Boag stood down in the aftermath of National's poor result in the last election.



She said she had spent a great deal of time addressing the party's defeat.



"I have spent a lot of time cooling down passions, tending wounds, helping the party and its membership through the very difficult post-election period."



The conference wraps up tomorrow afternoon after voting in a board of directors and policy debates over various areas including economic growth and foreign policy.




- NZPA