Last updated 11:55, November 22 2017
Labour MP Louisa Wall says the cartoons were insulting.
Controversial cartoons featuring negative stereotypes of Māori and Pasifika were “insulting,” a High Court judge has said.
But whether they incited “public hostility” against these ethnic groups and breached the Human Rights Act was the point up for debate at Auckland’s High Court on Wednesday.
Labour MP Louisa Wall is appealing a decision by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which rejected Wall’s complaint that the cartoons were ”insulting and ignorant put-downs of Māori and Pacific people”.
One of the Al Nisbet cartoons.
In the High Court in Auckland, Justice Matthew Muir said the aim of the hearing was to “look afresh” at whether there was a breach of the Human Rights Act. “No-one is contending that the cartoons were not insulting, we certainly all regard them as insulting.”
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“It is a grossly inappropriate generalisation of Māori parents. What is insulting about the cartoon is to suggest that this is the exclusive preserve of Māori and Pasifika parents.
The Marlborough Express Al Nisbet cartoon
“This is about how we apply the balance of the test of Section 61.”
Section 61 of the Human Rights Act states the cartoons must be ”threatening, abusive, or insulting” and ”likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons” in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins.
In her opening remarks for Wall, human rights lawyer Prue Kapua said the cartoons did bring Māori and Pasifika into contempt. “It is colouring the view of general people who are looking at those cartoons.”
“How does this not bring Māori and Pasifika into contempt, if they are defined as welfare bludgers and negligent parents and consumed with smoking, drinking and alcohol?”
Justice Muir said he agreed, but he was not convinced most people would take the cartoons at face value.
“The tribunal took the view that in the context of a ‘free market of ideas’ in an essentially socially liberal country, the reasonable person would concede that, albeit incredibly tasteless, the cartoons were not likely to incite hostility or bring people into contempt.”
Most people would say the cartoons were simply cartoonist Al Nisbet’s ”warped view of the world,” he said.
During the first hearing, on November 1, Justice Muir expressed discomfort with hearing the case alone.
He acknowledged Wall’s work in sponsoring marriage equality legislation in parliament that granted same-sex couples the right to get married, and said it was public knowledge he lived with a male partner.
While the lawyers present did not object to Justice Muir’s jurisdiction, he went on to appoint Dr Huhana Hickey and former National MP Brian Neeson as lay members on the panel to hear the case alongside him.
Wall and South Auckland youth group Warriors of Change took Fairfax Media and The Press and Marlborough Express newspapers to the tribunal over two drawings by cartoonist Al Nisbet about the Government’s breakfast in schools programme in 2013.
Fairfax Media, which publishes the two newspapers, also owns Stuff.
One of the cartoons depicted a group of adults, dressed as children, eating breakfast at school and saying “Psst . . . If we can get away with this, the more cash left for booze, smokes and pokies”.
The other showed a family sitting around a table littered with Lotto tickets, alcohol and cigarettes and saying “Free school food is great! Eases our poverty and puts something in you kids’ bellies”.
The tribunal ruled in May while the cartoons may have “offended, insulted or even angered”, they were “not likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of their colour, race, or ethnic or national origins”.
It said for that reason their publication was not unlawful.
Wall said at the time she was disappointed with the tribunal’s decision, and appealed it to the High Court.
Note: Cartoons are very close to the truth