Prime Minister Helen Clark says she is concerned about Labour MP John Tamihere's latest criticism of his cabinet colleagues, and thinks the MP has been under stress.
Mr Tamihere's extraordinary comments have been published in Investigate magazine after a conversation with its editor Ian Wishart.
The MP described one cabinet minister as "smarmy", another as "a tosser" and said the Government's policies were too politically correct.
"I'm concerned that members of my caucus and staff in the Beehive have been frankly defamed, but I think people will look at it and see you've got a fellow here who has been under considerable pressure," The Prime Minister said today on TV One's Breakfast programme.
Mr Tamihere was in trouble for most of last year over allegations involving the Waipareira Trust.
He resigned from the cabinet while the Serious Fraud Office investigated the allegations.
He was cleared, but Helen Clark has indicated he is unlikely to return until at least after the election.
The PM said Mr Tamihere called her on Friday to say he had lunch with Wishart and thought the conversation was off the record.
"I've had a look at it, it seems to me like the product of a long liquid lunch," she said.
"We have a member here who has been to hell and back in the last few months...he fought to defend his reputation, it cost him an enormous amount of money.
"Under circumstances like that, people are a bit fragile."
Mr Tamihere's "smarmy" comment was about Social Development Minister Steve Maharey, and Conservation Minister Chris Carter was the "tosser".
He also said the country was being governed by "prime ministerial dictate" and Helen Clark did not handle emotions well.
The Prime Minister brushed off the remarks about herself, saying she did not worry about what people said about her.
However, she said Mr Tamihere's belief that he had been talking off the record did not excuse him.
"It doesn't excuse bagging your colleagues, it doesn't make it any better that you think you're off the record," she said.
"We've all been let down by journalists like that over the years."
Wishart said there had been no doubt that the interview was on the record.
"I put the tape recorder down on the table and away we went," he said on National Radio.
"John made no bones about it. It was a frank and open discussion, there was no attempt to be surreptitious."
He said the lunch lasted 70 minutes and Mr Tamihere had half a glass of red wine.
He said Mr Tamihere subsequently left a voicemail message for him saying he thought his comments might have been "a bit too frank".
Wishart said he called Mr Tamihere and told him the magazine was running a verbatim interview.
"He hung up on me."
Mr Tamihere has not responded to NZPA's phone calls.
Helen Clark said Mr Tamihere had received a lot of support from his colleagues, including herself, while he was in trouble.
"We put our reputations on the line to defend him, and I think he should reflect on that," she said on National Radio.
"Just reflect, John, on the slogans you're chucking around."
Helen Clark said Mr Tamihere's return to the Cabinet before the election had been effectively ruled out anyway, and whether he joined it after the election depended on his caucus colleagues.
"You rely on the support of your colleagues to be elected to a Labour Cabinet, that's how the system works," she said.
"John had a lot of support from his colleagues for his troubles and I think they would be rather disappointed at this stream of consciousness in a minor magazine."
* What Tamihere told Investigate magazine
"Out of 51 in the caucus, 10 would back me to the hilt, another 15 say they would, but who knows? But that's a solid block in any caucus. What I'd do is promote (Social Development Minister Steve) Maharey immediately, make him wear all the bullshit that'll come out."
"I tell you what, if I was on the other side mate I'd have cut the bloody Labour Party to pieces over moral issues. There's a huge pendulum swing against what my leadership stands for."
"Unions, I can't stand them... It's always about threats and intimidation, and 'we've got big balls, what have you got?' "
"When you look at the (party) list, the union movement have got four new members coming in, end of story... They don't deserve to have that level of influence. I'm going to lead a charge against that, very shortly, because the party has to be updated to reflect where our society and communities are, as opposed to where they used to be."
"You can spend two hours with Maharey and walk away none the wiser but you've got three screeds of paper full of notes. So there's operators like him who are very smarmy, very clever, but no substance. It's all about status.'
"(The Parliamentary press gallery are) utterly and totally useless. And sycophantic. You know and I know there's no investigative journalism done in that bloody gallery. In the information age, we've got more ignorant people out there than there's ever been."
"(National Party finance spokesman John Key is) going to be very good. I've got the greatest regard for John. One more term, he's a formidable character. He's the one that scares the s...t out of me the most out of the whole bunch."
"I think Bill English will make a comeback after the election, but give John Key one more term to get blooded in the House... If I was to pick National's dream team it would be Key and (Katherine) Rich -- Rich for the south."
"Heather Simpson -- Helen's assistant -- wanted me in the tent as damaged goods. Too tough to lose completely. She's dangerous, a very dangerous woman."
Asked what was the most powerful network in the Labour executive "the Labour Party Wimmins division... it's about an anti-men agenda"
"We wouldn't survive without (Finance Minister Michael) Cullen -- he can cut a deal on a piece of legislation, he can change a single word in a piece of legislation without those other bastards (coalition partners) knowing about it."
"I hear Maori talking about how they were burnt out of the Orakei marae in 1951 and so on. Big deal."
"I've got a right to think that sex with another male is unhealthy and violating. I've got a right to think that."
"(Prime Minister Helen) Clark has been brutalised by people who have called her lesbian, no children and all the rest of it. Her key advisor Heather Simpson is a butch, and a lot of her support systems are, Maryann Street and so on, and she's very comfortable in that world and comfortable with it. I'm not."
"(Helen Clark) goes to pieces. She'll fold on the emotional side and walk away or not turn up. She's knows it's going to get emotional and it upsets her."
"Men's problems are traditionally dealt with by the criminal justice system. Women, on the other hand, get a bloody Cartwright Inquiry and get millions of dollars thrown at their breasts and cervixes."