Prime Minister John Key says Labour's David Cunliffe is crying wolf by refusing to rule out withdrawing from TVNZ's election debate because of its decision to use Mike Hosking as the moderator.
Labour has objected to TVNZ using Hosking because of pro-National statements the presenter has made in the past, including at Mr Key's State of the Nation address in 2013.
Mr Cunliffe would not rule out pulling out completely, saying Hosking's apparent endorsement of National "raised some questions that TVNZ will want to very carefully consider."
"Concerns were raised by my staff when it became apparent Mr Hosking had introduced Mr Key at his 2013 State of the Nation speech and appeared to warmly endorse him. We are in discussion with TVNZ about that and other matters."
TVNZ said yesterday it had no intention of withdrawing Hosking and Mr Key said he did not believe for an instant Mr Cunliffe would pull out.
"Of course he'll turn up. He's not going to leave the one opportunity he's got for one on one debate at the start of the election campaign with an empty seat. His issue is not convincing Mike Hosking whether he's got the right policies for New Zealand. His issues are convincing the public that he's got them and that might be a much bigger challenge."
Mr Key said he intended to turn up to all the leader on leader debates, regardless of the hosts' political views. He said TV3's John Campbell had once said he voted Alliance. "It doesn't stop me turning up and going on Campbell Live or the debates hosted by John. When you're a political leader it's not the interviewer you have to impress, it's the people at home watching the show."
Labour is currently preparing a dossier of statements made by Hosking that were of concern and Mr Cunliffe said it was still in talks with TVNZ.
Mr Key also scotched speculation by some that National wanted the Green co-leaders involved in the debates as well, saying he believed it should remain between the two leaders aspiring to be Prime Minister.
Mr Cunliffe had also said a Rugby News cover of Mr Key in an All Blacks jersey photoshopped alongside some All Blacks was "very surprising".
He would not say if he thought it was fair. "That is a matter for the public to make up their own mind about. All I can say is I'm a passionate rugby fan, a huge All Blacks supporter and I will continue to be when I am Prime Minister."
Mr Key said he was asked to pose for a photo but had not known what they intended to do with it. "Some people love it, some people hate it. Lots of people choose to use my image or ask me to pose for things. Sometimes it's positive, sometimes it's negative."
NZ Rugby said it was shown the image the day before Rugby News printed it and had asked the magazine to make it clear that it was photoshopped and had nothing to do with NZ Rugby.