National Party leader Simon Bridges has gone on the attack, calling Jacinda Ardern a "part-time Prime Minister" for getting involved in the Ihumātao land dispute just before leaving for Tokelau.
Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis has defended Ardern's trip as a long-standing obligation, adding that Government ministers were dealing with the land dispute in Ardern's absence.
Ardern departed for Tokelau on Saturday, the first Kiwi Prime Minister to visit in 15 years, and is expected to return on Thursday.
The day before she left she brokered an agreement for Fletcher Building to put its planned property development - planned in conjunction with Te Kawerau ā Maki - on hold while a solution is sought.
Protesters calling for the housing development to be axed are entering the second week of occupying the land.
Bridges attacked Ardern's trip to Tokelau this morning, saying that she could have traveled there during the recent three-week parliamentary recess.
"I'm not saying no ifs no buts people shouldn't be going to Tokelau or the Chathams or other Pacific Islands. Of course there's a role for that, but right now, when she's just had a three-week recess, when she's got so many issues at home that everyday New Zealanders are focused on?"
Bridges said that Ardern had escalated the dispute at Ihumātao by stepping in.
"She's put herself right in it and where is she? She's gone on a trip for days to Tokelau.
"The Prime Minister has made a hash of it. She has sparked this up and she needs to let us know where she's going and quick-smart. She can't do that from Tokelau.
"We're just not seeing the focus from a part-time Prime Minister and Government."
Davis defended the trip, saying it was a long-standing engagement.
"The Prime Minister does have her obligations. Having an international visit isn't something that can just be switched on and switched off. There's a lot of preparation that goes towards it and she has to fulfill those obligations.
"The ministers who are left behind I think are dealing with the situation [at Ihumātao] admirably."
Davis said the key was to resolve the competing interests of mana whenua, even though Winston Peters backed the side of the iwi involved over what he called "outsiders".
"Who has been keeping that land warm over the centuries, all the way to 2019?" Peters said yesterday.
"That in the end will be what guides the system in this country and indeed Māori understanding and tikanga as well, not just the view of a whole lot of outsiders."
Bridges also supported the agreement to build houses on the land.
"Fletchers [and] local iwi have worked their way through this. They were going to be very sensitive about the cultural and historical sites that are there. We should get on and build those houses."
Yesterday Newshub reported that Ardern had tried to prevent media in Tokelau from asking about the Ihumātao dispute, and her staff had threatened to restrict access to Ardern if they did.
After crisis calls from the capital, Ardern took questions and said she was not worried about the protests escalating.
"Regardless of what's happening domestically or locally we have a great team that pick up the reins when offshore," she told Newshub.