The three National MPs effectively forced to retire at the coming election appeared to boycott a ceremony at the party's conference yesterday to thank all 12 retiring MPs for their service.

Tau Henare, Colin King and John Hayes did not join Prime Minister John Key on stage to receive handshakes from Key and president Peter Goodfellow, a plaque and a round of applause from the delegates.

King was successfully challenged in Kaikoura by Stuart Smith; Hayes would have been challenged but avoided being de-selected by announcing his retirement from Wairarapa where Alistair Scott is standing. Te Atatu-based Henare was warned last election that he would not be given a safe list position and fellow list MP Alfred Ngaro is standing in the Labour-held seat of Te Atatu.

In all, 12 National MPs are retiring at the September 20 election.


Hayes said later it was a simple "bugger up" on his part.

Key and senior ministers yesterday spoke at the conference about the instability of a multi-pronged left-wing Government.

"This is an election campaign being fought between the centre-right and the far left and as long as New Zealanders understand that then they go to the polls with complete knowledge of what they are voting for."

He said the difference between a coalition of parties he led was that National would be a dominant force within the coalition. "If David Cunliffe could get there, it would be really with the Greens pulling the strings and it would be with a variety of other parties that are a long, long way left."

National campaign chairman Steven Joyce said: "If Laila Harre, Hone Harawira, Pam Corkery, Kim Dotcom, Russel Norman, Metiria Turei, David Cunliffe, Matt McCarten and John Minto are the answer, can we please have another look at the question?"

Key said he expected to have made up his mind within a few weeks whether to help the Conservatives in East Coast Bays.

Joyce announced that each electorate would be given a target of between 2000 and 25,000 party votes. The electorates targeted to win at least 25,000 votes are Epsom, North Shore, Rodney and Tamaki. East Coast Bays, Selwyn, Hunua, Pakuranga, Waitaki, Clutha-Southland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Botany and Ilam have targets of 22,000-23,000.

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