Duncan Garner believes Simon Bridges has breached Jami-Lee Ross' privacy by using the word "embarrassing" when announcing Ross' personal leave.
Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross is stepping down from National's front bench and taking leave from Parliament to deal with personal health issues.
When National leader Simon Bridges announced on Tuesday that Mr Ross would be taking leave for a "few months", he said the National Party Caucus will be providing all the support it can.
- National Party launches internal investigation into expenses leak
- National MP takes leave from Parliament, Caucus for health issues
- Simon Bridges' expenses leaker sends anonymous text pleading for end to inquiry
Mr Bridges then said Mr Ross' health issues could be "potentially embarrassing", before correcting himself, adding, "Maybe that's not the right word."
His use of the word "embarrassing" has not gone down well with Duncan Garner. The host of The AM Show said it was a "glaring mistake" for Mr Bridges to use the word, and said it was a breach of Mr Ross' privacy, as it could suggest the nature of Mr Ross' condition.
Garner said he called Mr Bridges on the phone and spoke to the National leader "at length" about the issue. He said Mr Bridges stopped him mid-sentence to tell Garner he regretted saying the word and admitted he shouldn't have done so.
"Bridges, to his credit, would not specifically tell me what was wrong [with Mr Ross] because he had promised his colleague he would keep this matter confidential, because of the very personal nature of it," Garner told The AM Show on Wednesday.
However, Garner said Mr Bridges "stuffed up" by using the word "embarrassing" because it "whet the appetite of a line of waiting political journalists who naturally wanted to know what embarrassing actually meant".
"Bridges got stern during the chat when he said Ross isn't the leaker of his travel expenses and this is not some kind of manufactured cover up in advance of the investigation," Garner added. "He almost pleaded with me to believe that."
Political commentator Josie Pagani said the timing of Mr Ross going on leave is "really unfortunate". She told The AM Show Mr Bridges will be "questioning himself" over why he initiated the investigation into his travel expenses in the first place.
She said Mr Bridges was "obviously trying to look strong and tough," and that he had "ended up looking like he's got stuck in a whirlwind of a rollercoaster of his own making".
Mr Bridges said it is "clear [Mr Ross is] not the leaker", insisting the investigation into his travel expenses is "entirely separate".
The Privacy Commissioner John Edwards also weighed in on Mr Bridges' comment. He said the National leader "chose a word unwisely," adding his use of the word "embarrassing" does not specifically reveal the nature of Mr Ross' condition.
"Privacy is a very subjective thing," he told The AM Show.