The Race Relations Commissioner says jeering and shouting towards a woman speaking Te Reo Māori at a ratepayers meeting is "really disappointing".
Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance steering committee spokeswoman Kim Williams greeted the audience at the group's launch on Wednesday night at Club Mount Maunganui.
After a brief welcoming in English, she spoke in Te Reo Māori which prompted an uproar from members of the audience.
"Speak English" and "we don't want to hear that" were among the calls from a large portion of the crowd that overpowered Williams' voice.
"All I wanted to do when I got off that stage was walk straight out the door," she told the Bay of Plenty Times on Thursday.
"It took every inch of me to go back to my seat and sit there through the rest of it, and to try not [to] react."
The group now denies a "large" portion of the audience jeered and shouted at Williams.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said he was disappointed but not surprised after hearing about the incident.
"It's really disappointing in 2021 when exposure of the Māori language especially in the general media has been the norm - it's disappointing to hear that ... but [I'm] not surprised," he said.
"Racist comments do affect people's wellbeing."
AUT School of Social Sciences and Public Policy associate professor Camille Nakhid said she did not want to speak for Māori on the incident, but could speak as a migrant.
"We need to honour and respect the people, tangata whenua and the [Māori] language and the culture and traditions, because we are here by their grace and under their conditions."
Human rights barrister Dr Tony Ellis said while the comments were extremely rude, everybody in New Zealand had the right to freedom of speech.
"People do have the right to publicly protest. It's historically been the case that politicians and the speaker here is a politician in that sense, are drowned out by opposing parties.
"Freedom of speech includes the right to upset people. If you're in the public arena, you've got to somewhat have a thick skin."
Ellis said the matter was a moral issue rather than a legal issue.
"The real problem here is education to not behave in such a stupid manner and to respect the rights of others. It shows the ignorance and bad behaviour of people who drowned her out."
After the Bay of Plenty Times reported on the incident, the Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance denied a "large portion" of the 300 attendees jeered and shouted when Williams greeted the audience in Te Reo.
In a written statement, attributed to Kim Williams, sent to media about midday on Friday, the group said much of the noise was the audience objecting to "two or three abusers" Williams was "looking directly at".
"The room supported me. Dozens from the meeting approached me after to offer love, support and apology. Peter Williams absolutely condemned those two or three bigots who enjoy the negativity of divisiveness," Kim Williams said in the statement's depiction of the jeering.
Bay of Plenty Times journalists at the event vehemently disagree with the statement's description of the jeering.
Video of the incident shows a loud uproar as she begins her mihi. She puts her hands out and waits, saying, "excuse me, I am giving you a welcome". People applaud and she continues speaking in English.
Pāpāmoa Residents and Ratepayers Association committee member Keegan Miller, who walked out after the incident, said the uproar was like nothing he had ever experienced.
"There's always a bit of noise when someone goes up [and speaks te reo], but last night was impressive. That was the loudest I've ever heard [in ratepayers meeting]," he said.
"Kimiora got up. And it was probably about on her fifth or sixth word in Māori that people started to groan. And then they all worked off each other.
Miller said in his opinion: "It was about 30 to 40 per cent of the room that was groaning and jeering at her ... It certainly came across as a lot of people that were upset with it."
Miller said after an initial jeer, Williams explained she was performing a greeting. Several audience members then started clapping Williams.
He said in his view: "It certainly wasn't people supporting her in the first kind of noise that was made."
Former Tauranga City Councillor Murray Guy, who livestreamed the event, said he felt out of his comfort zone.
"I didn't support or applaud that response. It was immature and inappropriate ... I felt a sense of embarrassment."
Guy said it would have been hard to discern the percentage of people who made the remarks but "whatever it was, it was loud and it sent a clear message".
He said the "inappropriate response" was short-lived and noted the clapping when she continued.
Event MC Peter Williams, who said he was not a member of the alliance, said the entire incident was over and done in about 10 seconds.
It did not appear to him as though a majority of the audience reacted negatively to the comments made in Māori, he said.
"It didn't appear to me as if it was an overwhelming majority."
Williams said there was a stronger reaction when he reprimanded the audience after the incident.
"When I got up afterwards to rebuke those who had made those comments, there seemed to be a response to me in terms of applause and reaction that was louder than the original catcalling."
The Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance uploaded an edited version of a livestream video of the launch on social media.
The edited version excludes Kim Williams' speech. Committee member Michael O'Neil said only the main speeches were kept in the edited version.
The Bay of Plenty Times stands by the reporting of the initial story.