Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is "running scared" by not questioning her deputy leader, and NZ First leader, Winston Peters about his involvement in controversial photos of reporters, National says.
National's deputy leader Paula Bennett has also questioned Peters' suitability for the role of Deputy Prime Minister, saying if it turns out NZ First was behind supplying photos of journalists to a Whale Oil-linked blog, Ardern needs to sack him.
This morning, Ardern faced a barrage of questions from media about the saga and distanced herself, and the Government, from any of the blame.
She said as the issues in question had nothing to do with Peters' role as a member of Cabinet, it was not a matter for her as Prime Minister.
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On RNZ she revealed she "doesn't even have clarity over who took them [the photos]" or how they ended up on the blog.
"It is not something I hold information on. It is not conduct I've been engaged in."
Ardern argued that, as the issue has nothing to do with Peters' role as a Cabinet minister, it's not her job to raise the issue with him.
But Bennett said this was not good enough and said it was Ardern's job to question her ministers about issues regarding ethics.
"By Jacinda Ardern choosing a 'see no evil, hear no evil' approach to this, she is in many ways, I think, supporting this kind of unethical behaviour.
At the very least, she said Ardern should be "showing some backbone" and be asking Peters some serious questions about NZ First's involvement in the saga.
"I think she's running scared that he may pull the plug and I don't think they are ready for an early election," she said, speculating about Peters walking away from Labour and forcing an early election.
"She won't do anything because she is so beholden to him that she would rather drag herself and everyone else through the muck with him."
The public, she said, deserves answers – "I do not believe he should be in the role as Deputy Prime Minister".
"If what we are seeing play out is the truth, then I don't think he is holding up the highest ethical standards, that one should expect from a Deputy Prime Minister."
Bennett all but confirmed what was playing out was "dirty politics".
"If one was defining dirty politics, then right now Winston Peters and NZ First would be at the top of that."
Before the 2014 election, National was embroiled in its own "dirty politics" saga, when hacked emails revealed the party had worked with Whale-Oil to write attack pieces.