The National Party is being criticised for having an upside-down Tino Rangatiratanga flag in the background during leader Todd Muller's speech in Te Puna yesterday.
But Tommy Wilson, Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust executive director, said it was "totally unfair" to pin the mistake on Muller who had just hired the Te Puna Rugby Football clubrooms hall for the event.
The mistake led to dozens of tweets to the National Party and jokes about what the upside flag meant.
Wilson, who is also a club member, said the forum was attended by at least 300 people, including tangata whenua, Maori Party and Labour Party supporters.
"I think it is a very cheap shot to blame Todd as the flag has been hanging that way for at least a year and no one has said anything until now. Even I didn't notice it was the wrong way up and I have been in that hall many times," he said.
"I have carried that flag around the world and no one has ever said anything including our coach who is the headmaster of the local Kura kaupapa Maori college."
Wilson said the club did not intend to turn the flag the right way up until the controversy died down as it could be seen as an admission that Muller was responsible for the error.
"It was a great afternoon... We as Tangata Whenua wanted to honour Todd for his achievement, as the new leader of the Opposition.
"Todd was not being disrespectful to anyone," he said.
Many of Wilson's family and the Muller whanau have grown up together.
Neither Muller nor club's chairman, Charles Kuka, could be contacted.
The upside-down flag is one in a series of controversies surrounding the National Party leader, who caused a social media stir over his MAGA hat.
In the speech, Muller promised National would not increase the taxes New Zealanders pay, nor cut benefits, and would continue to increase New Zealand's investment in hospitals, schools and the welfare safety net.