Key Points:

Q: What's your vision for New Zealand?

A: My vision is for a more prosperous New Zealand, a New Zealand that delivers opportunities for everyone. A country that is safer. A country that feels more confident about itself and punches above its weight.

Q: What is the most pressing reason why someone should vote National?

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A:

Because our economy is in recession - we have a Government that after nine years is now delivering us a decade of deficits. It has failed to, even in the good times, on a relative basis strengthen our economy and deliver the increase in wages that is so desperately needed to keep our young people here.

Q: Name your three most important policies.

A:

Tax cuts, because we think they put not only more money in the pockets of New Zealanders at a time when they're facing rising costs of living, but also to put the right incentives in the economy.

Number two is a comprehensive programme to improve law and order issues, including tackling youth crime with our Army-style correction camps, plus sentencing, and with the cancellation of parole for repeat violent offenders.

The third thing would be implementation of national standards so we can have confidence that every young New Zealander will be able to leave school able to read, write and do maths at a level appropriate to participate in the modern economy.

Q: Is National any different to the party that failed to win the election in 2005, and if so what has changed?

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A:

Inevitably a new leader always brings a different style. We are arguably more centrist and probably a little more pragmatic under my leadership. But no less ambitious for New Zealand.

Q: Aren't the changes little more than cosmetic and tonal?

A:

Some are tonal. But I think I'm the first true MMP leader that the party has had. I recognised early on that we need to be able to work with small parties and develop constructive and enduring relationships with them. I think the blend of personal experiences I have give me a unique opportunity to understand issues from a range of perspectives.

Q: Having said that, you are still chasing more than 50 per cent of the party vote aren't you?

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A:

I think that's natural for any major party, to try and maximise the vote. But in the final analysis, if we need to rely on the support of smaller parties, and even if we don't, we're likely to want to engage in relationship building with them.

Q: How would you differ from Helen Clark as prime minister?

A:

I'm less likely to want to tell New Zealanders how to run their own life. I'm hardworking, which she is. I think I'm reasonably pragmatic, which she is. But I'm much more ambitious for New Zealand. I believe we should government under the politics of aspiration, not the politics of envy.

Q: Helen Clark has a formidable knowledge of policy and closely follows what is happening in all spheres of her government. Would you?

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A:

Yes. I think any prime minister has to be fully versed with what's going on in their government, and play an active leadership role. That's what I've done as leader of the Opposition in terms of policy development. That doesn't mean that you don't rely on a strong team of lieutenants and I'm fortunate to have that bench strength. I intend to fully involve them in the decision-making process.

Q: What mistakes would you own up to since becoming leader of the National Party?

A:

When I found out that I had more TranzRail shares than had been assumed I should have made that clear.

From time to time there have been minor errors but I wouldn't overstate those. Any leader, particularly a new leader, will from time to time make mistakes. The important issue is whether you learn from them.

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Q: Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has said you have already agreed not to abolish the Maori seats without Maori consent. Have you?

A:

No, but we've certainly met with the Maori Party on a number of occasions and we recognise they do not agree with our policy to wind-up the Maori seats. If we are in a position to put together a government relying on the support of the Maori Party then we'll go into those negotiations with good faith and we recognise they could span a number of different areas. But at this point there's no agreement.

Q: Do you personally support the policy or is it something that your caucus decided?

A:

I think over time it is the right thing for New Zealanders to be on one universal franchise. But I don't think it's the biggest issue facing New Zealand.

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Q: Do you think the Maori Party policy of 'unbundling' Maori spending from mainstream expenditure is a good idea or separatist?

A:

I'm not familiar enough with it to comment. We have a proud history as a political party of providing choice for New Zealanders. And that has included Maori New Zealanders who have wanted to exercise that when it comes to health and education. Witnessed by the development of kuras, and kohanga reo and wananga under National, as well as Maori health providers. We're happy to continue to promote that choice. But I wouldn't want to take it further than that.

Q: Would you be prepared to review any of your spending promises if the economic downturn dramatically worsened in the next few months?

A:

I think you have to always remain flexible, simply because we live in a dynamic world. But we've taken a cautious approach to putting together our tax package and our spending promises. Our main focus now is on how to deliver our growth agenda. Because as we could see when the books were opened, if New Zealand is to ensure that we don't slip into a decade of deficits delivered to us by Michael Cullen and Helen Clark then we're going to need a strong, pro-growth agenda.

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Q: You have ruled out Roger Douglas around your Cabinet table. What about as a minister outside Cabinet?

A:

I don't envisage Roger Douglas being in a Cabinet that I lead.

Q: What about outside the Cabinet?

A:

I think that would include outside of Cabinet.

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Q: One of National's core support bases is the farming community. Labour has agreed agriculture will not come into the emissions trading scheme until 2013. Will you give farmers an easier ride in climate change policy?

A:

We are going to ensure when we re-work the emissions trading scheme that it achieves our objectives, is fair and balanced, and that it provides practical incentives for everyone to reduce their emissions. That includes farmers.

But I think we have to have a degree of realism that for farmers to be able to reduce their emissions without simply reducing stock numbers, there have to be credible scientific options. At the moment, they are limited.

Q: So is it possible agriculture's entry to the scheme might be delayed?

A:

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Part of the re-working of the emissions trading scheme is to make sure that it's fair. I am very confident that if farmers can face appropriate incentives then their track record from the reforms of the 80s is that they do that, they do it well and they take full responsibility. We can't ask them to change their behaviour unless there's a credible path they can follow. When it comes to nitrate emissions that is something where we are rapidly developing solutions. Methane at the moment, there's currently not answers to that.

Q: National has talked endlessly about putting a cap on the number of bureaucrats - how will that save money compared with what is being spent now?

A:

If you look over the last nine years, Labour has broadly added 10,000 core bureaucrats - lifting the numbers from 26,000 to 36,000. They are showing no sign at all of wanting to reduce the growth in that path. Under National there will be no more than 36,000. So over time, it's fair to assume that there's a significant cost saving that comes from that, and we estimate that to be around about $500 million over three years.

Q: What government departments would a National-led government either merge or get rid of?

A:

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We are looking at various things. Obviously ERMA (Environmental Risk Management Authority) is going to be merged into a newly developed environmental protection agency.

We're looking at the Ministry of Immigration as it sits currently in the Department of Labour.

We've said we'd have a look at the role of both the Tertiary Education Commission and the Electricity Commission, so they are two that are likely to have at least reasonable change. We're going to consider the merger of Corrections back into Justice.

And the Families Commission is likely to merge with the Children's Commission, with some of the resources from the merged entity being put directly towards the front-line for NGOs (non-government organisations) involved in issues related to families.

Q: Do you have a ballpark figure of how much money these mergers might free up?

A:

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Don't know at this point. We haven't factored that into our current track. Although over time there may be some savings.

Q: National has criticised Labour for the number of strategy papers and national statements it produces but doesn't it show that Labour prefers to work from an ordered, long-term plan and what's wrong with that?

A:

If they are working from a plan, the plan's not working. Because environmentally, socially and economically we're going backwards. Secondly, I think it's largely been a front to try to deflect questions from the Opposition.

We're going to take a much more targeted view. So from an economic perspective our focus will be on how to lift productivity, from a law and order point of view how to resolve issues of youth and violent crime, from an environmental point of view how to get a properly structured emissions trading scheme.

Q: The debate around tax cuts is framed around affordability. How do you judge affordability and what counts as an affordable tax cut?

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A:

We've taken a conservative view in terms of putting together our numbers. It's a view that reflects what we thought would be a worsening economic position - although it's fair to say the final PREFU numbers were worse than what we anticipated. I think it's important that you set your fiscal policy over the medium-term. There will always be cycles. There are growth-enhancing elements of having the right incentives in a tax package. But we live in such tumultuous times that there's just got to be a greater degree of caution than there may have been when the country was running very large surpluses. That's reflected in our tax package.

Q: Why should New Zealanders trust a man who would be the country's most inexperienced Prime Minister - in terms of time in Parliament - to make major calls on foreign policy like sending troops to war?

A: Because the crucial issues that New Zealand will face over the next few years are likely to be economic, and I bring vast and proven experience in that area. I made it quite clear as leader of the party, from the first week when I became leader of the party that I intended to follow an independent foreign policy. And I believe I'll exercise good judgment in adhering to that foreign policy. It's time for New Zealand to have some fresh leadership. In reality, incumbents will always put up the case that the challenger is inexperienced - by definition they will be because they're not in the job. But if that was the criteria, we would never change a leader.

Q: You have said you will not work with Winston Peters. Does that mean no deal with New Zealand First under any circumstances?
A: Yes.

Q: Does that ban include the kind of co-operation agreement the Greens currently have with Labour?
A: Yes.

Q: Does it rule out an agreement where Peters was not in Cabinet, or a minister outside Cabinet, but some other New Zealand First MP or MPs was a minister either inside or outside Cabinet?
A: Yes it rules that out. We have taken that view that it won't be possible for National to work with New Zealand First, and we're not looking for ways to try and finesse that.

Q: What is your position on abortion and the abortion law?
A: I don't support changing from the existing law. I respect a woman's right to choose, and think in broad terms the current law is functioning appropriately.