National Leader Simon Bridges says comments about Indian students made by NZ First MP and minister Shane Jones over the weekend were racist.
He joins a chorus of others, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has challenged the outspoken MP over his comments.
Despite this, both Jones and his leader – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters – stand by the comments.
Over the weekend, Jones told Newshub: "I think the number of students that have come from India have ruined many of those [educational] institutions."
Briefly speaking to media this morning, Peters said the comments couldn't have been racist as they "come from the Indian people themselves".
"Mr Jones was mirroring the comments that the Indian people have passed on to us – so they couldn't be racist in that context."
This is despite Ardern last night saying Jones' comments were "wrong" and "loose".
She said she spoke to Jones this morning.
"He understands my position and acknowledges, as he said publicly, that I'm right."
Last night, she told media "I totally disagree with him," and that she will “be asking him to reconsider the way he talks about these issues in the future because I do not believe it is good for New Zealand”.
She said she doesn't condone racism in her Cabinet, but wouldn't call Jones' comments racist.
But Bridges disagrees – "his comments were racist".
Bridges said the dressing down from the Prime Minister was "clearly not" good enough because Jones had doubled down on his comments.
Speaking to RNZ this morning, Jones said he stood by what he said.
Bridges said that was entirely regrettable.
"I think the Prime Minister just tut-tutting and then saying, 'But look he's in another party' doesn't cut it ... He is also her minister."
The head of the Waitakere Indian Association, Sunil Kaushal, has also labelled Jones' comments racist.
When pressed on Kaushal's comments this morning, Peters said: "That was one person, what about the other 200,000," he said, in reference to New Zealand's total Indian population.
Meanwhile, Ardern defended the way she had dealt with Jones over not only his recent comments, but also past ones.
"The last time minister Jones made comments, particularly about the Indian community, I made very clear my view. I do not take lightly these matters."
She said Jones does face consequences – "but here you're asking me to take an action on an area where a member of another political party stands in direct opposition to a view that I hold. This is MMP."
Ardern said different opinions among different parties would become more prominent in an election year.
"People have a decision to make at election time over who they vote for, and those different perspectives – how they are represented in Parliament."