New Zealanders are crowdfunding to help pay for a Māori film-maker's legal fees as she faces a defamation suit from Sir Bob Jones.

The court proceedings were in response to a petition submitted to Parliament calling for Jones' knighthood to be revoked.

More than 70,000 people have now signed the petition, started by Rotorua-based film-maker Renae Maihi, which was delivered to Parliament in March.

It followed Jones' February 2 column in the National Business Review calling for a Māori "Gratitude Day" instead of Waitangi Day.

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The petition read: "In signing this petition we urge you, our Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern, to take his knighthood away from him. It is in your power. Set a precedent for the country and a message that this will not be tolerated ..."

Jones, whose knighthood is for services to the business community, then filed defamation papers in the High Court at Wellington against Maihi.

No hearing date has yet been allocated, the High Court confirmed today.

Professor Pou Temara and filmmaker Renae Maihi delivered the petition to Parliament. Photo / Derek Cheng
Professor Pou Temara and filmmaker Renae Maihi delivered the petition to Parliament. Photo / Derek Cheng

Now, a Givealittle page has been established with dozens of people donating funds to help pay for Maihi's legal costs.

Community campaigner Laura O'Connell Rapira, who formed the donations page, said the money would cover the court costs Maihi would be forced to pay if she loses the case.

"We think that's wrong and have launched a Givealittle crowdfunding campaign to tautoko (support) Renae," the ActionStation director said.

"Bob Jones is one of New Zealand's wealthiest men and he is throwing huge sums of money at this fight. Renae is a grassroots film-maker and mum. We must show her our support."

Jones' NBR column began with the opening line "time for a troll".

He then went on to write: "I have in mind a public holiday where Māori bring us breakfast in bed or weed our gardens, wash and polish our cars and so on, out of gratitude for existing.

"And if any Māori​ tries arguing that he/she didn't have a slight infection of Irish blood or whatever, they might be the better for it, the answer is no, sunshine."

NBR removed the column from its website "due to inappropriate content".

Jones, who said it was satire, has since stopped writing his NBR column.

Asked for comment today on the fundraising bid, Jones' lawyer, John Langford, said: "I will not be making a contribution."

Earlier this month, Jones also demanded an apology and retraction after a University of Waikato professor called him "racist" on Twitter.

Associate professor Dr Leonie Pihama, the director of Te Kotahi Research Institute at the university, was served with a letter by Langford after Pihama sent the tweet.

The tweet was accompanied by a link to the petition to revoke Jones' knighthood.

Langford's letter read: "The term 'racist' is clearly defamatory, by any reasonable standard. It was simply used as a label in this case and cannot be defended as part of some wider debate, or discussion about race issues.

"Sir Robert requires you to immediately withdraw, and retract, your use of this label, and apologise to him, via the same media in which it was published."

Jones' lawyer said at the time the knight's next steps would be determined by Pihama's response to the letter. However she told the Herald she had not replied because she did "not respond to threats".

Hundreds of tweets by other social media users followed Pihama's, using similar language to describe Jones.

"My letter was respectful in tone, and a respectful response would have been appreciated," Langford told the Herald.

A Press Council complaint by Mel Whaanga, who also said Jones' column was "racist", was dismissed in April.