A war of words has broken out between Tauranga-based Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and former Tauranga MP Winston Peters over his "two wongs don't make a wight" joke.

A member of Tauranga's Chinese community says some members would have found the comments offensive but Clayton Mitchell, the New Zealand First candidate for Tauranga, says everyone has lost their sense of humour.

Dame Susan said politicians making fun of an entire race of people was not new but it was "disappointing and shameful" that New Zealand political leaders were still doing it in 2014.

"Winston Peters needs to know he's not funny.

Advertisement

"His outdated rhetoric belongs in New Zealand's past, it has no place in New Zealand's future."

The NZ First leader made the comment at the party's campaign launch on Sunday when outlining his intention to crack down on foreign ownership of NZ land, saying National's claim that Labour had done it as well was not vindication.

"Just because your predecessor did it too does not make your actions sensible. As they say in Beijing, 'two wongs don't make a wight," he said.

In response to Dame Susan's comments, Mr Peters told One News: "If that's all she's got to do, she better find a new job."

Tauranga's Mr Mitchell said there was no racial intent in Mr Peter's joke. "When did everyone lose their sense of humour? It was a humorous moment. I can't believe it has created such a stir." Victoria Han, a Tauranga-based Chinese expat, said there would have been members of Tauranga's Chinese community who would have found the comments offensive.

She said Mr Peters came out with similar remarks every election. "He's trying to get attention like a baby," Ms Han said.

Mr Peters has defended the joke, saying it was not racist.

"It's called humour. I know that in Beijing they think it's funny, and so do I."

Advertisement

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said he was bored by Mr Peters' comments. "Every election we get the same old stuff and it gets tired.

"I would like to see politicians discuss actual politics."

The comment also brought condemnation from Act party leader Jamie Whyte, who said the joke wasn't funny, made no sense and Dame Susan should have resigned for failing to condemn Mr Peters earlier.

Dr Whyte and Dame Susan have been locked in a war of words and Dr Whyte called on her to resign after she labelled his comparison of Maori to pre-revolutionary French aristocracy "grotesque and inflammatory".

- with APNZ