Labour leader Andrew Little is at risk of getting stuck in the middle of ructions between his potential coalition partners after NZ First leader Winston Peters fired a warning about "consequences" at Green Party's co-leader Metiria Turei for calling him racist.
Turei said Peters had a "very racist approach to immigration" and in her speech at the Green Party campaign launch yesterday launched into his "divisive" approach, saying a future Government which had only NZ First as a support partner would be "disastrous".
Peters quickly fired back, saying it was the Greens who had separatist policies when it came to Maori and ownership of water.
"My warning to the Greens is don't call New Zealand First racist - an allegation that is spurious - and think there won't be consequences."
Peters did not respond to a request for comment on what he meant by "consequences" but he and the Green Party have a fractious history.
In 2005, Peters blocked the Greens going into government with Labour.
Little said it did not worry him and he did not want to get drawn into it. However, he seemed to send a hint of his own to the Green Party to dial back the criticism on immigration.
"It is important that on the issue of immigration, as a country we need to be able to debate it as an issue without getting into allegations of racism and without assuming party's positions are racist positions. If we are going to assert racism, then that has to be explained."
Asked if he believed Peters was racist on immigration, Little said he could not recall what Peters had said. However, he said Labour recognised immigration had increased rapidly and put pressure on transport and public services and had to be better managed.
Despite Peters' reaction, Turei was sticking to her guns a few hours later. "I'm telling it like it is."
She said Peters' attacks on immigrants and blaming immigrants for infrastructure problems was wrong.
"And his attacks on the Muslim community have been outrageous and wrong."
"I'm just saying pretty up front I don't like it, I think it's racist."
However, Turei said it did not mean the Greens could not work with NZ First in a government. Nor did she believe Labour's policy to cut immigration by up to 30,000 a year to allow infrastructure to catch up was racist. The Greens believed the cause was under-investment by the Government, rather than the fault of migrants.
"If he continues with what I think is a very racist line then I will keep calling him out. It's my job to do in New Zealand politics."
Turei said she was pleading to supporters to ensure the Green Party was the strongest partner in any Labour-led government - and prevent a NZ First-National Government or a Labour Government without the Greens.
She was not concerned Peters would veto the Greens again.
"It's up to him what he does. My interest now is campaigning as hard as I can for the strongest possible vote to make sure the Greens are the dominant influence in a Labour-Greens government."
Labour has already said it would call the Green Party first if it is in a position to form a government, although its memorandum of understanding will end on election day.
NZ First refused to consider a similar agreement and has maintained it will wait until after the election results are known to decide whether to enter a governing agreement with either side.
The Green Party recently dropped its own policy to restrict immigration because of concerns among some supporters.