Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Racist taxi rant: Mayor defends Invercargill

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt says residents were generally "very tolerant'' of immigrants from different countries, after a racist rant against a taxi driver was captured on camera

In the exchange in a cab early on Friday, Greg Shuttleworth, a technician for engineering firm Jesco, describes the driver as an "Islam prick'' and says: "F*** off back to where you come from''.

He tells Pakistan-born driver Tariq Humayun he will pay the $7 fare when, "you tell me that you'll piss off back to the country where you come from ... you shouldn't be in New Zealand in the first place ... we don't require your Muslim bulls*** in this country.''

When asked whether racism was a major problem in the Southland town, Mr Shadbolt said there had been no major issues - but admitted residents may be more "fearful'' of foreigners due to their lack of exposure to other cultures.

"Generally speaking, there just aren't these issues. My partner is half-Indian and she was born here,'' Mr Shadbolt said.

"I think...that the reason you get those sort of red-neck views expressed a bit more [in Invercargill] than other areas is that generally speaking it is a very, I suppose, a very isolated part of New Zealand.''

"Here, a lot of people would have never met people from other countries hardly, in terms of their schools and things.

"So they tended to be a bit, I suppose, fearful of the unknown in a way that others haven't,'' Mr Shadbolt said.

However, as more immigrants moved into the city and people became more aware of other cultures, this would disappear, he said.

"We are changing from a monocultural society to a multicultural society and I'm sure with that change it will bring a change in attitude and there won't be that sort of...fear of the unknown."

Regular student exchanges with Invercargill's Japanese sister city Kumagaya was also increasing awareness amongst residents, he said.

Invercargill police have said they're investigating the incident.

Mr Shuttleworth said he regretted the incident and wanted to meet Mr Humayun to apologise.

Mr Shuttleworth told the Herald he regrets the incident and wants to meet Mr Humayun to apologise.

Yesterday - as condemnation and criticism against him mounted and police said they would investigate - Mr Shuttleworth said it was a "one-off situation" which involved too much alcohol and for which he was now paying the price.

But he was still concerned about Muslims in New Zealand. "They don't stand in a pretty light overseas ... And I am worried about what they've come to New Zealand [for] and what we let past our borders."

He admitted he could have handled things better. "It was the wrong thing said at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. There's better ways to go about voicing your opinion."

Mr Shuttleworth, who confirmed he had previously been before the courts for drink-driving, said he had tried to make contact with Mr Humayun to apologise. "He doesn't want to speak to me and I understand why but I've tried to apologise and I'm very remorseful for what I've done."

Police today issued a statement saying they were investigating the incident, after Mr Humayun drove to the police station and spoke to officers.

The statement says the victim will be spoken to again.

Many Herald readers wrote in yesterday, saying the passenger's comments made them ashamed as New Zealanders. Broadcaster Kim Hill wrote: "I wish HE could get thrown out of NZ. He makes me ashamed."

Mr Humayun's employer, Safinah Mohammed, said verbal attacks on drivers were not uncommon, a concern also echoed by the New Zealand Taxi Federation.

The company had about 12 cabs and around 50 per cent of its drivers were of ethnic origin. They came from a variety of backgrounds including Pakistani, Indian, Fijian and Maori.

Mrs Mohammed made the video public because of the severity of the abuse and because the passenger had targeted religion, she said.

Mr Humayun had taken the rest of Friday night off and was still stressed, she said.

John Hart, of the Taxi Federation, said such abuse - often racial - was not uncommon.

"They are not committing an offence if it's only abuse. It's where it's actually physical violence where the cameras help out."

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy applauded Mr Humayun's decision to speak out because people needed to be held accountable for such abuse. "There's an avenue for him [Mr Humayun] to go to the police if the guy refused to pay the fare. But in terms of racial abuse, the threshold is very high."

Last night Invercargill police said they would be looking into the matter and hoped to speak to Mr Humayun.

The Southland Muslim Association said the comments were disappointing and saddening.

President Dr Wali Kamali said he was happy to meet Mr Shuttleworth, so he could learn about the Muslim religion and "undo some of the damage".

- NZ Herald

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