Judith Collins denies fat-shaming a top microbiologist, whom the National leader described as a "big, fat hypocrite" for travelling 5km from her home to visit a friend on a beach without wearing a mask.
The footage of Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, who often gives expert advice on COVID-19, was reported last week by The BFD, a website run by Cameron Slater, known for his known defunct Whaleoil blog.
Dr Wiles was filmed at Judges Bay in Parnell, about 5km from her Freemans Bay home in Auckland. She was joined by a woman whom The Spinoff confirmed has written for them before, and is part of Dr Wiles' bubble.
Dr Wiles justified the trip to the beach as exercise because she cycled there, and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield came to her defence on Friday saying it "didn't sound like protocols were breached".
But the footage of the two women at the beach not wearing masks - the friend stretching lockdown rules by going for a dip - outraged Collins, who blasted Dr Wiles during a virtual meeting with supporters as a "big, fat hypocrite".
Collins soon came under fire herself after her comments about Dr Wiles circulated online, with some people expressing discomfort with her use of the word "fat".
"The leader of the opposition shouldn't be fat shaming people," one Twitter user wrote. "Collins is a bully and quite frankly a disgusting human."
But Collins is adamant she was not referring to Dr Wiles' weight.
"This nonsense of making out I was fat-shaming her," she told Magic Talk on Monday. "I have struggled with weight all my life. I'm the last person to fat-shame anybody."
Collins said it was purely a colloquialism.
"It's like a saying, 'big, fat hypocrite', 'big, fat liar', 'big, fat fraud' - it says, 'really looked hypocritical to me'. I just thought people need to wake up to it."
It's not the first time Collins has courted controversy on the topic of weight. She came under fire during the leadup to the election last year for describing obesity as "a weakness" that people need to own up to.
Dr Wiles responded to Collins directly on Twitter.
"Hey @JudithCollinsMP - thanks for your interest in my exercise habits. You never heard of bicycles?! They are awesome for getting around the city, especially at Level 4 when there are so few cars about."
Collins suggested there was a double standard for Dr Wiles compared to the Auckland couple who travelled to Wanaka during lockdown.
"I also note that we're outraged about the couple from Auckland who have used their ability to move out of Auckland to go off to have a holiday using the exemption they have for travel for work. There's outrage on that.
"I think we're right to be outraged that Siouxsie Wiles is giving us lectures constantly about how we should stay at home and not go out of our little area, and suddenly a 5km bike ride and sitting on the beach without masks and obviously other people were there."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday she did not think Collins' comments on Dr Wiles were warranted.
"As a general rule of thumb, I see politicians in a particular category. We put ourselves into this space. We know what's going to come our way, and I hope that over time that changes a bit, but for here and now that is the way it is, and we accept the rules of the game. And we come into it with eyes wide open.
"But for the most part, many other people are in the roles they're in just to do the very best they can by their communities and by their professions. And so I don't believe what has happened in this case warranted the response that was received by Siouxsie Wiles."