Act leader David Seymour has called Winston Peters a "charismatic crook" during a minor leaders' debate in which Gareth Morgan hit out at "femo-facists" after being asked about his "lipstick on a pig" comments.

The Nation held the lively debate this morning, featuring Seymour, Morgan, Green Party leader James Shaw, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox and Mana leader Hone Harawira.

Peters declined an invitation to attend, and host Lisa Owen asked each leader what their message to an "absent friend" - either Peters or Peter Dunne - was.

Seymour - recently compared to a Chihuahua by Peters - didn't waste the opportunity, saying Peters has had his time and had been kicked out of numerous Cabinets by different prime ministers.


"You are crook. A charismatic crook perhaps, but a crook all the same."

Fox told Peters the Maori seats were here to stay, as was the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori language.

Shaw said he'd rather talk about the failings of National under Bill English. However, later in the debate he told voters that if they wanted a progressive government they had to vote for the Greens - saying a Labour-NZ First alliance would not be progressive.

During a section of justice policy, Harawira was asked about his past support for "boot camps", given National's recent policy to send serious youth offenders to boot camp for up to a year, and let police fine parents of young people out on the streets from midnight to 5am.

"Not on the boot camps that the National Party is talking about. That is the kind of Nazi-style stuff where it's like prison - you put them in at level one and they come out at level five."

It wasn't the only reference to facism. When Morgan, leader of The Opportunities Party (TOP), was asked if he was a feminist he said he absolutely was, and - frequently cut off by other contestants and the audience - attempted to explain the recent controversy after he questioned whether Jacinda Ardern was more than "lipstick on a pig".

Morgan said the term had been used on Radio Live five days before he said it and there had been no outcry.

"I said it and all the - what do you call them - femo-facists come out and," Morgan said, before Owen put a question to Harawira and cut him off.

Fox said there was an equal chance the Maori Party could go with National or Labour, but had a dig at Labour - saying they had risen in the polls but it wasn't clear if there was any depth there if you scratched below the surface.

Some of the strongest comments on policy came from Shaw on immigration. His party had proposed capping migration at 1 per cent of population growth, but abandoned that policy earlier this year, with Shaw apologising for focusing on numbers.

Labour is sticking with its policy that it estimates would cut net migration by 20,000-30,000 a year, while NZ First wants net migration cut further, to about 10,000 a year.

"Every single other party treats immigrants like some sort of economic unit - either to be exploited or as a threat. And my point in this whole debate around immigration, is we are getting very concerned that the whole immigration policy debate is being captured by the xenophobes and the racists."