Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 16. September 8th 1971
The party faithful atmosphere could be sensed most strongly during the addresses of various ministers. This was a Holyoake conference. His Saturday address produced a display of enthusiastic unity. From his opening 'My fellow freedom fighters' (Yes!) through his lavish praise of top ministers to the standing ovation he exuded confidence and complacency. 'Our great National party is the most stable influence in New Zealand at this time' he pontificated. With a prime-minister of such belief how can one expect change anyway? It was all really a very ordinary Holyoake speech complete with resonant overemphasis of figures and anti-Labour rallying cries - this time the Stabilisation of Remuneration Act. (a new clarion call to replace the worn-out Black Budget?) The delegates lapped it up. It was the speech of a leader secure in his post and ready to contest the 1972 election that fifth in a row that was mentioned like some monotonous theme.
The Saturday night address was heralded as the highlight of the conference - a sad reflection on the other events.
The same over enthusiastic reception greeted Mr Muldoon on Monday. Into the atmosphere on anti-union prejudice he cynically blew his latest trumpet and to maximum effect. Starting with a dull description of the state of the economy he launched into a tirade against the disruptive Communish elements allegedly within the Trade Union movement. Nothing could have been more calculated to delight his party. Simplistic statements like 'We're going to deal with industrial unrest' and 'We can beat the Labour party and will' brought delegates out cheering wildly. The final political cynicism of his speech 'We have but one leader and he is Sir Keith Holyoake' had delegates applauding and clamouring for more. It was a disgusting display of opportunism and depressing witness to party gullibility. Little matter that he produced virtually no elaboration of his assertion, they cheered him all the same.
Other ministerial speeches came from Mr Allen, whose outline of all the ministers concerned with the environment only served to emphasize the need for a single controlling force; Mr Talboys, who gave a fairly sympathetic account of the needs of the universities; and Mr Marshall, who gave a low key account (not surprisingly in view of the leadership struggle rumours) of his Overseas Trade and Labour portfolios.
Sunday, for senior delegates was a day for socializing, and presumably lobbying for the Monday election. Sunday was also the day for the Young National's national conference, held unbelievably behind doors closed to the press. (I was allowed in to listen, but not report, not that the proceedings were worth reporting anyway) If the Young Nationals wish to establish themselves as a creditable political force they will have to show considerably more vigour than they did at Dunedin. From an afternoon's talk only three rather innocuous political remits emerged. Sample: a call for a commission into the cause of violence in cities - yes, another commission. If you thought the government was already commission happy then its party is worse. Soon there will be a shortage of suitable people to sit on all these commissions. Four remits were still untouched at 5.30, and rather than miss some of their teatime socializing, the Young National's decided to refer these back to the divisions. Which is tantamount to shelving them.
Hardly the fruits of a politically aware and active organisation. If the main National Party fears to rock the governmental boat, then the Young National's seem to go one worse in not wanting to even disturb the main party. So at Sunday night's function, Sir Keith praised his Young Nationals for their emotion backed with logic. (as opposed to the emotion of those unwashed longhairs on the streets).
That evening function produced the nadir of the conference. A panel of four party members, including Mr Thompson, wasted an hour giving banal answers to questions on topics such as protest, dringing licences, population maximum, the Treaty of Waitangi, and probably others. The atmosphere was stifling with party-faithful intolerance. The new Chairman of the Young Nationals drew some rumblings from the back when he dared even to suggest that the July 30 protest had attracted a sizeable following. To see him back-peddle and qualify his rashness was not exactly edifying.
Sir Keith himself deigned to utter a few platitutdes for the credulous gathering and proceeded to give a description of the Vietnam war that leant largely on the discredited domino theory.
If the Young Nationals deserved no credit for their afternoon performance they deserved even less for arranging this entertainment.