Stuart Nash says unsavoury people "hijacked" Groundswell's website and there's no way he will apologise for saying the movement has racist and anti-vax elements.
The Labour MP and Cabinet Minister today said he was standing up for colleague Nanaia Mahuta after a Groundswell co-ordinator portrayed Mahuta as a gang member.
Ross Townshend resigned as director of Waikato dairy co-op Tatua but Act has been demanding Nash apologise for comments about Groundswell.
Today, Nash doubled down on his remarks but also suggested only a small or rogue element within Groundswell was problematic.
One post of Mahuta portrayed her as a Mongrel Mob-style gangster and said it was "repugnant" she was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"That's what you should be calling out. It was a disgusting post about a woman who I think does a fantastic job. It was on their website and that's what I was referring to," Nash said.
"What I think happened is their website had been hijacked by some very unsavoury members of our community," he added.
"If you'd seen what was on their website about Nanaia then you would have been as horrified as I was. And in fact, a whole lot of people from Groundswell came out and called that out."
Groundswell reportedly dropped Townshend as a Hamilton organiser after last week's controversy.
Last week, Act Party MP Mark Cameron in the House of Representatives asked Nash if he'd met with Groundswell representatives.
"I'm not too sure what Groundswell stands for these days," Nash replied. He said based on Groundswell's website, the movement was "a mixture of racism, anti-vax" and other sentiments.
Nash was answering on behalf of Minister for Rural Communities Damien O'Connor.
Nash today said when asked about Groundswell, he was referring to posts "about my great mate and colleague" Nanaia Mahuta.
He added: "I'm the Minister of Forestry. I have dealt with a lot of rural folk for many, many years and the vast majority are really, really good people."
Cameron today again raised the issue and said Nash should apologise.
"Obviously we all heard the iteration made in the House on Thursday last week by Minister Nash. I think it's egregious and ... as rural New Zealanders, we were asking that the Government have open dialogue.
"Sadly, Minister Nash's assertions were vacuous, they were asinine, they did nothing to actually address the problem."
He said some bad elements could ride the coat-tails of any movement but he'd personally seen no racist signs at a recent Groundswell Whangārei meeting.
Cameron was asked about misogynistic remarks he previously made on social media about the Prime Minister.
"I always regret the silly things that I've said in my past. We all make mistakes and I'm a human being and I've made them."
He said he made flippant remarks in the past "as a civilian, not a Parliamentarian" and it didn't change the fact Nash had effectively accused Groundswell of racism.
Tatua chairman Steve Allen previously told the Herald that Townshend, a veteran agribusiness governor, had resigned after a conversation with Allen about the post.
"An incident of such offensive disrespect is simply not who we are," Allen added in a statement from Tatua announcing Townshend's resignation.