Susan Devoy: Peter Leitch needs to 'do the right thing' over racism row
Sir Peter Leitch needs to "do the right thing" and meet the woman who accused him of using racist terms, according to Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.
A race row erupted when Maori woman Lara Bridger accused Leitch, the Mad Butcher founder, of telling her Waiheke was a "white man's island".
On Thursday afternoon, after attending the funeral of three people who died in a house fire in south Auckland, Devoy said Leitch needed to "do the right thing", reiterate his apology, and meet with Bridger to make it right because he's "that kind of person".
Devoy said Leitch made a racist and offensive comment, but he was not a racist.
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"He made a mistake and I'm sure he acknowledges that.
"Don't let one thing cast a shadow on his entire life," she said.
Devoy said we can all do or say the wrong thing at times, and if we offend someone we should do the right thing and apologise.
Earlier in the day, Devoy entered the debate on Radio New Zealand, saying she knew Leitch personally and he often used light-hearted banter, which could be misinterpreted.
"The last thing he would have wanted in the world was to offend someone, I know that," she told Radio New Zealand.
However Devoy changed her stance just hours after the radio interview, releasing a statement calling Leitch's comments casual racism.
Leitch needed to "fix" the issue, she said in the statement.
"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 [Bridger] has shown us," she said.
"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 and it's great to hear the local iwi are able to help mediate as are our own commission mediators.
"It is pretty clear he had no idea how offensive his words were but he will definitely know this now."
Meanwhile, Bridger said she has had death threats since she posted a tearful video describing her version of what happened at Stoneyridge Vineyard on Waiheke Island on Tuesday.
Leitch responded with a statement saying Bridger 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," he said.
"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. This was not a serious comment and was only ever intended to be light-hearted banter.
"When she later informed me she was offended by my comment I apologised unreservedly."
In the ongoing fall out from the story, Leitch's spokeswoman Michelle Boag was on Wednesday night also accused of racism for saying Bridger was "barely coffee-coloured".
Boag - a prominent Auckland public relations specialist and former president of the National Party - told Maori TV that Leitch had not racially profiled Bridger.
However she later said her remarks had been misconstrued.
"[Maori TV] took my response out of context.
"They did not report that I made that comment purely in response to her saying, 'he made a beeline for me because I was black'.
"I said 'that's a ridiculous comment, she's barely coffee-coloured'."
Devoy criticised Boag's comments, saying they were "out of line".
"This is quite an ignorant thing to say, someone's skin colour has nothing to do with anyone else except that person. Your colour doesn't define your ethnicity or your culture."
'UNLIKELY TO HAVE ANY LONGEVITY'
A marketing expert said both Leitch and Boag were likely to escape the controversy without any major repercussions.
University of Auckland marketing senior lecturer Bodo Lang said while the story had quickly been elevated to a national debate, it would disappear just as swiftly.
"Unless other people come forward and were able to string evidence together this is unlikely to have any longevity.
"If there was a string of evidence then I think the public discourse would swing on this and I think Leitch would have to do something more substantial and maybe issue an apology."
Of the coffee comment, Lang said Boag had clearly made a "blunder".
"I think that's very unfortunate wording on behalf of a spokesperson. She could have chosen much more careful wording."
The saga was not likely to impact the Mad Butcher business at all, Lang said.
"The people who go and buy products from the Mad Butcher are probably not particularly driven by ethical concerns or accusations of racism.
"I think if it was an accusation of unsafe work practices and it was proven then there definitely would be an impact. But I think really it's pretty peripheral, it's an accusation from one person.
"The impact on the business is negligible, it's probably nothing at all."