Ardern returns as NZ enters election year

An election date, a new ministry and a refreshed policy agenda.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has three big-ticket items to work through as she returns to the political fore this week.

After a summer break, Ms Ardern will make her first appearance of 2023 on Thursday in Napier at Labour's annual caucus retreat.

Serendipitously for an election year, the centre-right opposition National party will also hold its first party room get-together in Napier at the same time.

Opposition and National leader Chris Luxon has thrown down the gauntlet to Ms Ardern in recent months, replacing Labour as the preferred party of New Zealanders in public polling.

It is the first time since the onset of COVID-19 and Labour's thumping 2020 election success that Ms Ardern has found herself behind.

Announcements on her big-ticket priorities are expected to begin as soon as Thursday.

While incumbents in Australia call an election within weeks of a polling day, recent New Zealand governments have tended to set a date early in an election year - a custom started by John Key.

The early naming of the date gives away one of the benefits of incumbency, allowing all parties and the electoral commission time to plan accordingly.

The election is due in spring but political analysts are struggling to predict a date with events including school holidays and a Rugby World Cup scheduled between September and November.

Many think Ms Ardern will opt for a later date to distance the election from winter - and a possible COVID-19 spike - and allow Labour more time to make up ground.

Ms Ardern has also pledged to reshuffle her cabinet and ministerial line-up early in 2023, filling gaps left by a clutch of ministers who signalled retirements late last year.

In recent end-of-year interviews, the prime minister vowed to "pare back" the government's policy agenda and spending as New Zealand braces for tougher economic times.

Treasury and the Reserve Bank have both predicted New Zealand will enter a shallow recession late in 2023 and economic data released this week confirmed the gloom.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research's quarterly survey of business sentiment shows a net 73 per cent of businesses expect conditions to deteriorate in coming months, the weakest result in two decades.

New Zealand is at least buttressed against the declining environment by generationally low unemployment at 3.3 per cent.