Prime Minister John Key pulled waitress' ponytail
Prime Minister John Key has dismissed his hair-pulling pranks as "a bit of banter", saying he apologised to an Auckland waitress when it became clear his approaches were unwanted.
The waitress made the claims that Key repeatedly tugged on her ponytail in an anonymous blog post. She is said to be a waitress at a Rosie, a cafe frequented by Key and his wife Bronagh near their Parnell mansion.
Labour says the incident did not match the standards expected of a prime minister, while the Green Party says Key's behaviour was "weird" and showed he was out of touch.
Key, who is on his way to Anzac Centenary commemorations in Gallipoli, spoke to reporters while on a layover in Los Angeles.
"We have lots of fun and games there, there's always lots of practical jokes and things. It's a very warm and friendly relationship.
"But if you look at it now, no. When I realised she took offence by that I just sort of immediately went back, gave her some wine, apologised and said I was terribly sorry," he said.
Key said he apologised because at that point he realised she had actually taken offence.
"It was all in the context of a bit of banter that was going on, and so obviously I immediately apologised for that.
"She thanked me for that and said 'that's all fine, no drama'".
WAITRESS BLOGGED ABOUT PONYTAIL PULL
On Left-wing blog The Daily Blog, the waitress said Key would often visit the cafe with his wife and security detail, and "playfully" pull on her ponytail.
"In the beginning, the first time he pulled on my hair, I remember thinking to myself he's probably just trying to be playful and jolly, seeing as the general consensus of most who meet him is 'he's such a nice guy'".
The waitress said the behaviour began during the election campaign, but continued on for months through to March, 2015. She detailed a specific date, February 28, 2015, where she said Key approached her from behind, pulled her hair and then joked that Bronagh did it.
She claimed the Prime Minister approached her again at the cafe on March 13, but the waitress made her views clear.
During that visit, she said Key asked her manager: "she really doesn't like me pulling her ponytail?" to which the manager said "well...no".
The waitress said that on Thursday March 26, Key and Bronagh visited the cafe again, but while Key did not pull her ponytail, he joked around making gestures. The waitress said Bronagh told him to "leave the poor girl alone".
The waitress said she told him to stop, "or I will actually hit you soon". It was a "short while later" she said the Prime Minister reappeared at the cafe and handed her two bottles of his JK 2012 vintage Pinot Noir saying "this is for you, sorry, I didn't realise."
Rosie owners Scott Brown and Jackie Grant said they were aware of an issue but did not comment on employment matters.
'IS THIS HIS AARON GILMORE MOMENT?'
Labour questioned whether Key would use the same standards he had for other MPs when assessing his own behaviour.
"Is this his Aaron Gilmore moment?," Labour deputy leader Annette King asked on Wednesday.
Gilmore, a list MP for National between 2008 and 2011 and in 2012 - 13, eventually resigned from Parliament after a furore sparked by his allegedly demanding of a waiter "don't you know who I am?" while at a National Party regional conference.
Gilmore apologised for being a "dickhead" after the boozy dinner in a Hanmer Springs hotel where he allegedly threatened to have Key intervene to have the man sacked.
After the incident, Key said it was extremely important Gilmore apologised because "in the end the expectation on MPs, rightfully so, is that they adhere to a high level of behaviour."
Key said Gilmore would be aware of Key's expectations of him: "that is he goes out and treats people with full respect and he's conscious of the fact he's a Member of Parliament."
When Gilmore was contacted for comment on Wednesday, he responded via text message and said "No thanks, and leave me alone."
King, the MP for Rongotai, said the PM should have known better.
"Is the Prime minister going to judge himself in the same way he judged Aaron Gilmore? A higher standard is expected of any Prime Minister," King said.
"Touching anybody in an unwelcome manner is always very inappropriate and I think it's especially true if you're in a position of power, which the Prime Minister is," King said.
"I think it was a stupid action and the Prime Minister in particular, doesn't have the luxury of tomfoolery, particularly with people who are employees and people that he doesn't know."
King said it would be "very difficult" for the woman to complain because of the imbalance in power.
'YOU CAN'T START TUGGING ON SOMEONE'S HAIR'
Green MP Metiria Turei said the series of incidents amounted to bullying.
"New Zealanders know you can't walk into a cafe and start tugging on someone's hair, especially if they've told you they don't like it.
"John Key should be held to the same standards as the rest of us.
"A lot of New Zealanders know what it's like to feel as if you're not taken seriously in a job. As politicians, our job is to make people feel safe at work, not bullied.
"It's a sign of how out of touch John Key has become when he can't even monitor how inappropriate his personal behaviour is, and when people are not comfortable with how he is behaving."
'THE STORY NEEDED SHARING'
Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury, editor of The Daily Blog, said the woman had contacted him about Key's visits to the cafe.
"Her persistence and desire to have NZers know about how their PM was behaving led to me suggesting she write in her own words her experience. When I read it, I felt it was also a story that needed sharing."
Bradbury said the story had "a strong ring of truth about it" and he had taken steps to protect himself and the blog.
"Yes, affidavits have been signed, I have seen the bottles of Key's exclusive wine and I understand there will be cafe footage." Bradbury later clarified on Twitter, he understood the footage was of Key dropping the wine off.
READ MORE: Who is Martyn Bradbury?
Bradbury said he had suggested the woman contribute a piece, but he did not edit it.
"It is entirely her words - she wrote one draft, and then upon reflection sent an updated draft - I have not edited or changed any words she wrote at all - it is completely her story."
Even before the statement from the Prime Minister was released, David Farrar, a right wing blogger with close roots to the National Party said the story was "inappropriate if accurate" but defended Key's record as a boss.
"On the assumption that the story is correct, he obviously totally misread the situation, and he caused distress to someone. He eventually realised it, when he apologised with a couple of bottles of wine. I think he would be stunned to realise how upsetting it was for the person concerned, but regardless you should be able to read a situation better than it appears he did," Farrar wrote.
"If you speak to staff that work for him, they all say he is one of the best bosses they have ever worked for. Generally those who interact with him only have favourable things to say about him. But again in this case (assuming the story is correct) he appears to have seriously misjudged how what he saw as mucking around, was received, and he failed to pick up on the discomfort caused."
The claims follow a Campbell Live segment last year where Key, as part of a wider political leaders story, was filmed touching the ponytail of a young girl at the Matakana market, north of Auckland:
It headlined its story: "John Key: New Zealand prime minister's weirdest moments (so far)."
Followed by: "As his pulling of a waitress' ponytail goes to show, when it comes to awkward interactions and break-outs of foot-in-mouth, the New Zealand prime minister John Key gives his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, a run for his money."
The online version of the story goes on to run through about 10 other "highlights" including Key's Rugby World Cup fashion catwalk strut, his mocking of a radio broadcaster for wearing a "gay red top", and Key's posting of a photo of his personal visit with the Queen in Balmoral.
News organisations carrying versions of the story included the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Indian newspaper The Hindu, and MailOnline.
The Telegraph in Britain reported critics were calling Key's behaviour "a bizarre lapse of judgment by a politician noted for his usually polished appearances in public".
Numerous reports also appeared in Australia and Canada.