Mad Butcher row: Dame Susan Devoy changes stance

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy appears to have changed her stance on claims that Sir Peter Leitch described Waiheke as a "white man's island".

Earlier today Dame Susan told Radio New Zealand that Sir Peter was "the least racist person I know in the world" after Maori woman Lara Bridger complained about the comment she says he made during an exchange on the island on Tuesday. But then in a statement later this morning, she labelled Sir Peter's comments "so-called casual racism".

Dame Susan told RNZ that Sir Peter often used light-hearted banter, which could be misinterpreted.

"I know he's the least racist person I know in the world and yet what he said was obviously taken as offence by that young woman." 

She added: "The last thing he would have wanted in the world was to offend someone, I know that.

"Let's not forget he's done a lot of great work in terms of race relations in New Zealand - providing opportunity and building bridges between different cultures.

"I think it's generational and culturally different these days and he's probably licking his wounds today."

In a release issued shortly after 10am today, Dame Susan said New Zealanders should be grateful to Bridger for speaking up.

"She is a very brave young woman whose story is one that many Maori New Zealanders will recognise.
 
"Many of us have said or done things that are hurtful to others without really realising what we were saying is offensive: but that's not the end of the story. The important thing is being able to recognise when we've offended someone, to work to resolve it with mana and to make sure we never do it again," said Dame Susan.

Lara Wharepapa BBridger posted a video on social media on Tuesday claiming Sir Peter told her Waiheke was a "white man's island". Photo / Facebook
Lara Wharepapa BBridger posted a video on social media on Tuesday claiming Sir Peter told her Waiheke was a "white man's island". Photo / Facebook

"The thing about so-called casual racism is that it doesn't feel very casual if it happens to you or your family as Lara has shown us.

"I know Sir Peter and while I believe he's a very good person at heart: that thing he did was offensive to Lara and it needs to be fixed up. I am confident he will do this ..."

Bridger posted a video on social media on Tuesday claiming Sir Peter - the Mad Butcher - told her Waiheke was a "white man's island".

She took down the video that night saying "people were going a bit overboard with threats and racist comments" at Sir Peter in response to her post.

The 23-year-old woman said she was wine tasting with her mother and sister at Stonyridge Vineyard when they spotted Sir Peter eating lunch with his family.

The group waved to him before heading outside, she said.

She says Sir Peter came out and approached them and began making conversation.
Bridger said Sir Peter had warned the group not to drink and drive before going on to say they must not be local.

"I go 'Yeah, I'm actually born here'. That's when he said 'Well this is a white man's island and you should acknowledge that'," she said.

Sir Peter said he was "extremely disappointed that a young woman had misinterpreted some light-hearted banter". Photo / Wayne Drought
Sir Peter said he was "extremely disappointed that a young woman had misinterpreted some light-hearted banter". Photo / Wayne Drought

In a statement issued on Tuesday night, Sir Peter said he was "extremely disappointed that a young woman had misinterpreted some light-hearted banter".

"I was joking with her group about not drinking too much because there were lots of police on the island. She said that she was tangata whenua and could do what she liked, and I responded with a joke about it being a white man's island also.

"When she later informed me she was offended by my comment I apologised unreservedly. There is no way I can ever be accused of being racist."

Bridger yesterday disputed saying that she was tangata whenua and could do what she liked.

- NZ Herald

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