The cartoonist who penned two controversial cartoons won't apologise for them and says they weren't racist because they depict a mix of ethnicities.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has said the cartoons by Al Nisbet were offensive, but did not meet the threshold of being racist under the Human Rights Act.

Dame Susan said she would speak with the newspaper editors involved, but did not expect they would apologise for running the images.

The editors of the two South Island papers who ran the cartoons both said they could see why people had been offended by the images, but stopped short of apologising for allowing them to run.


One of the drawings published in the Marlborough Express appeared to show two brown-skinned adults in school uniforms taking advantage of the Breakfast in Schools programme to save money for cigarettes, alcohol and pokies.

The other cartoon, printed in The Press showed a mixed Maori/Pakeha family discussing how great the free breakfast programme would be to help them ease their poverty, while sitting in front of lottery tickets, cigarettes and empty beer cans.

Both cartoons had captions spoken by overweight, brown-skinned men.

Al Nisbet said people were being too precious over the cartoons. He denied he targeted only Pacific Island or Maori people, and pointed out white people were also depicted in the cartoons.

"I was careful about making sure there was a mix in there."

The cartoon was attacking "bludgers", he said.

"I'm not talking about the average poverty people. I'm talking about the ones who say they're poverty stricken, but they're on welfare getting handouts - they have their tv and they have their fancy cellphones and they have their alcohol and they have their pokies and they have their smokes."

Marlborough Express editor Steve Mason said he had received "a couple of dozen" complaints about the cartoon. But there had also been some calls in support of it, he said.


"The fact that I'm getting calls saying they support what we did suggests that reflects quite a wide depth of opinion out there."

He could understand why some people were offended however, because of the "well-rounded" stereotypes used in the cartoon.

Mr Mason said he would speak with people offended by the cartoon, but would not commit to apologising to anyone.

"That will depend on where that discussion goes."

The Press editor Joanna Norris said she understood why people had taken offence to the cartoon, but she would also not apologise for running the picture.

"There's no reason for The Press to apologise for running a piece of content that's offended some people."


She said there was a "wide range" of ethnicities in the cartoon and it expressed an important examination of the policy that was aiming to tackle the needs of children living in poverty.

The paper had received four complaints about the cartoon, she said.

Labour Ethnic Affairs spokesman and former Race Relations Conciliator Rajen Prasad said the cartoons clearly depicted the parents of the children who take up the food in schools scheme as mainly brown, irresponsible and overweight.

"It has hugely racist undertones.''

If Mr Nisbet wanted to make the point that in New Zealand everyone should be able to feed their children because of the welfare state, he could have approached that quite differently, Mr Prasad said.

"He didn't do that - either accidentally or deliberately he maligned these people.


"He gave people licence to discriminate and that's everyday racism, and that's what's objectionable about this.''

Child advocate group Every Child Counts welcomed Dame Susan's comments that the cartoons were "offensive and stigmatising".

"The cartoon highlights some of the ill-informed opinions New Zealanders have about the issues around poverty," manager Deborah Morris-Travers said.

The cartoon was slammed as racist on Twitter, with some calling for an apology from the newspaper.

Comedian Ben Hurley described the cartoon as "racist in a hurry".

Green MP Catherine Delahunty tweeted "Thanks Marlborough Express 4 reinforcing racist, anti poor people and larger people meme - we really needed that".


The website polled 8563 people. Nearly 74 per cent were not offended by the cartoons, and just over 26 per cent of people were offended.