Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has repeatedly denied calling Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy "a bit round" and telling her to walk to length of New Zealand to lose a few kilograms.
Devoy, the Race Relations Commissioner, reportedly told a Q & A at the TP McLean sports journalism awards in Auckland last night the story, which drew gasps from the audience.
Peters has denied it, saying that he had made an innocent and complimentary comment in the lead-up to the Dame's walking the length of the country for charity in 1987.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB host Larry Williams this evening, Peters said his recollection was different.
"I did not say she was overweight, number one; I did not say she was a bit round, that is number two; I did not say she should go on a walk around the whole country, so that's three facts, made up statements that are just simply not (correct)," Peters said.
Asked if Devoy made it up, Peters said her memory was failing her.
"All I said is that her level of skill was of a magnitude that she could beat the best in the world when she wasn't fit," Peter said.
Sportswriter Phil Gifford said he remembered Winston Peters calling Dame Susan Devoy overweight.
Gifford told Fairfax Media this afternoon that he remembers Peters' calling Devoy "a stone overweight", yet still able to win world titles, in a speech at a sports awards function in Auckland in 1987.
Peters, said he did not recall saying that she was a stone overweight, but that he and Devoy had met and worked together several times since the comments were made and they had never discussed the matter. The words "a bit round" were words he would never use.
Devoy has not commented on the reports of what she said, which was tweeted by Newsroom's Tim Murphy.
Peters is taking legal action against Murphy for his alleged role in the publication of his superannuation details. He said Murphy was acting for his own "perverse reasons around a campaign which he is conducting, which is bound to fail".
A spokesperson for the Race Relations Commissioner declined to elaborate today, saying Devoy "prefers to leave her comments as they are".
Meanwhile, the Herald can point to evidence of previous references Peters has made about the weight of two women MPs, National deputy leader Paula Bennett and former Maori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia.
At Peters' press conference at Parliament, when questioned about previous references, he denied it and said "No, no, sorry you can't provide one fact, can you?"
Hansard shows that Peters references were both during Question Time and that both women hit back at Peters, one in reference to his "drinking behaviour" and the other in reference to his age – 72.
His reference to Turia's weight was made in November 2003 when he questioned her about Maori obesity and when she said he had no evidence, he said the evidence was herself.
Turia responded: " I do not think I need to account to Mr Peters for my eating habits; nor do I expect him to account to me for his drinking behaviour …"
The reference to Paula Bennett was only last year when he suggested she had been at the "local deli" rather than the coalface of her then work as Social Housing Minister.
Bennett responded: "It is probably the rest home that you should be in."
There is a history of bad blood between Devoy and Peters.
In 2014 Devoy was harshly critical of Peters making a joke about "two Wongs don't make a right".
The NZ First leader had made the comment at the party's campaign launch when outlining his intention to crack down on foreign ownership of New Zealand land, saying National's claim that Labour had done it as well was not vindication.
"Just because your predecessor did it too does not make your actions sensible. As they say in Beijing, 'two Wongs don't make a right'," he said.
Devoy said at the time that politicians making fun of an entire race of people wasn't new but it was "disappointing and shameful New Zealand political leaders are still doing it in 2014".
November 20, 2003 – Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia being questioned about Maori health.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister not admit that the biggest improvements for Māori health would come from a proper, nationwide screening programme, in respect of Māori, for diabetes and hepatitis B - which could both be done at the same time - and, secondly, that Māori die much more often, and in far greater numbers, from obesity-rated diseases, for example, than for any other reason, and that that is where her concentration and focus should go, rather than on making veiled, stupid comments about racism?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: While I accept there are social issues relative to the position of Māori health, I think it is important we take a very broad view of that, and accept that racism plays a key part in that, as well ...
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister making allegations of racism in respect of the longevity of the Māori people and Māori health, when she knows full well that housing and a sound diet would be the most important things for Māori, and what racist element in our society is forcing people to go down to Kentucky Fried Chicken, or Pizza Hut, or McDonald's, and have Fanta and Coca-Cola by way of refreshments? Why does she not stick to the facts?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: As usual, that member has a lot of rhetoric but no evidence ...
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Minister said that my question was all rhetoric without evidence, would she accept that my evidence is herself?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I do not think I need to account to Mr Peters for my eating habits; nor do I expect him to account to me for his drinking behaviour ...
August 23, 2016 – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett being questioned about the cross-party inquiry on homelessness.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The reason I am not part of this inquiry is that I actually speak to people at the coalface and people who are suffering from this on a weekly basis. I do not need to go 18 months back in the programme of work that this Government is already doing. As the members themselves would say, what they need is action, and that is what the National Party and this Government are doing.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Minister, since when has the coalface been the local deli?
Mr SPEAKER: If the member chooses to answer - she does not have to.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is probably the rest home that you should be in.