A pamphlet that references Don Brash has been labelled racist by Justice Minister Andrew Little, who wants the current review of hate speech laws to examine whether better avenues of complaint are needed.

The Advertising Standards Authority confirmed it is considering a complaint by Pt Chevalier resident Emma Vere-Jones about the pamphlet which she believes denigrates Māori.

Vere-Jones, who felt the timing of the mailbox drop soon after the Christchurch terrorist attacks was deliberate, told the Herald she had struggled to find where to complain.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's empathetic response made news around the world.

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Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo / Stuart Munro
Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo / Stuart Munro

"It did feel like they were thinking that if there were some people who thought that had been over the top that now may be a good time to garner that support," Vere-Jones said.

The Human Rights Commission's criteria didn't seem to fit so she complained to the ASA because the pamphlet promotes and seeks donations for a campaign named Rolling Thunder.

"The concern for me is that if there is no one to complain to, does that mean it is okay for people to put that sort of thing in my letterbox. I don't think it is. There needs to be some sort of recourse."

The pamphlet titled One Treaty One Nation, calls for an end to state partnership with Māori, scrapping the Waitangi Tribunal, Māori electorates and wards and says Māori have benefited from colonisation lifting them out of "a violent stone age existence".

Andrew Little who is overseeing a review of hate speech in the wake of the terrorist attacks told the Herald his view was the pamphlet is racist.

"It peddles myths about pre-European Maori society that historical scholarship does not bear out. If it demonstrates anything, it is that the author of it is an ignorant fool."

The pamphlet promotes a book, 'One Treaty, One Nation' co-authored by Don Brash.
The pamphlet promotes a book, 'One Treaty, One Nation' co-authored by Don Brash.

Little said it was a matter the Human Rights Commission would be interested in.

"They are the right body to consider whether it is racist and, if so, whether it is sufficiently harmful to attract any sanction."

But the HRC said its governing Act was limited.

While it could accept complaints about publications or written matters that are threatening, abusive or insulting and were likely to excite hostility or ridicule of individuals or groups it had no power to make decisions about whether they broke the law.

It could offer mediation and if unresolved a complainant could take it to the independent Human Rights Review Tribunal which could decide whether it breached the Human Rights Act.

The HRC would not confirm whether it had received a complaint about the pamphlet, but said the ASA and the Office of Film and Literature Classification, are potential options for raising concerns.

Little said it needed to be clear where people could take complaints. "One of the things I want to see out of the review of our hate speech laws is whether the avenues open to members of the public to complain about hate speech are accessible enough."

The Human Rights Act is to be reviewed later in the year.

Vere-Jones doubted the pamphlet should be allowed as free speech because it included material that was "inaccurate" and its claim to promote equality was "disingenuous".

"It misses the point that indigenous people in countries that have been colonised absolutely don't fare well. It is not a level playing field."

"I felt pretty annoyed about it. And if it riles me as someone who is Pakeha, then how does it feel if you are Maori ... and that arrives through their letter box."

Attempts by the Herald to contact the group that sent out the pamphlets, One Law for All, were unsuccessful.

Radio New Zealand reported that a person from the group said they sent the pamphlets out to utilise stock and it was unrelated to Christchurch.

The pamphlet promotes a book, 'One Treaty, One Nation' co-authored by Don Brash.
The pamphlet promotes a book, 'One Treaty, One Nation' co-authored by Don Brash.

The pamphlet promotes a book, One Treaty, One Nation co-authored by Don Brash, a former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor who launched the Hobson's Pledge Trust campaign calling for an end to race-based laws.

Brash told the Herald he didn't know the pamphlet was being distributed again.

"I wrote a chapter in the book it refers to but I don't know who is distributing [the pamphlet] and I am surprised it is being distributed now because the book came out two or three years ago."

Brash said he vaguely recalled the pamphlet but not the detail. "I had no involvement in the recent distribution at all but the idea that the book is relevant to Christchurch is patent nonsense."

When the same pamphlet was distributed two years ago in Peter Dunne's Ohariu electorate, the now retired MP, derided them as "disgraceful, despicable, racist bigotry".

There is a gap in the law, the former United First politician said this week.

"We don't have a public decency tribunal in that sense. I think there is a real gap where offensive material can be put out there with no safeguard."

"I think the timing of this is obnoxious frankly. It is obnoxious anyway but, right now, it is clearly designed to inflame some tensions that are there and I think the organisers have to accept some liability for that."

Pamphlet 'incites negative attitudes towards Māori'

Vere-Jones told the ASA the tone of the pamphlet is designed to incite negative attitudes towards Māori using misinformation and out of context statements.

Here are some edited examples she provided the ASA.

"The phrase Stone Age is inflammatory, and tries to give the picture of a race who are stupid and uneducated. It is clearly inaccurate to compare the culture of Māori in NZ in the 1800s with stone age people."

Claim: that colonisation and the Treaty of Waitangi lifted Māori out of slavery.

Omits that slavery was continued by Europeans long after it was practised by Māori, therefore the pamphlet is singling one population out on the basis of race.

Claim: that inter-tribal wars killed a third of the population in the previous 20 years.

While presented as fact, it is questionable. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand states that "from 1810 to 1840 there were, each year, around 4000 deaths from illness and other 'normal' causes, while warfare caused perhaps 700 deaths".

Claim: With Western medicine Maori life expectancy has risen from 20 to 25 years (1840) to 75 years today.

Te Ara says that Māori life expectancy at the time of Captain James Cook's visits to New Zealand (between 1769 and 1777) was similar to that in some of the most privileged 18th-century societies. Māori may have had a life expectancy at birth of about 30 but there was a major decline in Māori life expectancy after European contact.

Introduced diseases and loss of land were factors.