Huntly Muslim abuse incident highlights our law's ineffectiveness in dealing with racist attacks - law expert

A leading constitutional law expert says New Zealand's laws need to be overhauled in the wake an ugly incident of racial abuse filmed in Waikato that was directed at a Muslim-New Zealand woman.

Mai Chen says prosecutions for racial abuse needs be approved by the Attorney General and such cases are rare. Source: Breakfast

Video of the Huntly incident, published on social media on Saturday, shows a woman verbally abusing Mehpara Khan and her two friends. They were all wearing hijabs.

As soon as the group of friends reached Auckland they went to the Manukau Police Station to report the incident. 

The Prime Minister says most Kiwis have a fair and tolerant attitude, and the incident isn't typical of NZ. Source: Breakfast

"We have to acknowledge that these things go on particularly for people who are visually diverse," law expert Mai Chen told TVNZ's Breakfast today.

Ms Chen says prosecutions for racial discrimination in New Zealand "hardly ever happen".

"If you could argue this is racial discrimination … then you can get people for racial harassment and incitement," she says.

"But the trouble is you need to get the Attorney General to approve such prosecutions and that's rare. It's hardly ever happened."

Ms Chen says the Bill of Rights talks about freedom of expression but also talks of "the right to be free of discrimination, the right of minorities, the right to be able to manifest your religion.

Bill English condemns incident

Prime Minister condemned the incident on Breakfast today saying: " It's awful, it shouldn't happen, people should feel safe here from that kind of harrassment".

But Mr English says he believes New Zealand is a fair and tolerant society.

"We need to make sure we don't generalise from other tension and conflict we see around the world to assume it happens here all the time."

"Generally New Zealanders have a fair and tolerant attitude.

"We are one of the more diverse countries in the world … we've learned a bit from our own history."

Reaction to ugly incident 'very positive'

Thousands of people have viewed the video and there have been hundreds of comments in support of Ms Khan, which Ms Chen says is "very positive".

"I think what happened was hugely important and very positive," she says.

"The reality is that very serious racism happens a lot.

"The question is that when it happened this time the police said 'this is absolutely not on we are going to prosecute', the Prime Minister said 'no this is not on'".

"I think this is very positive that there has been an outpouring that says that this frankly is not acceptable."

Ms Chen's advice for people who experience racial abuse: "You should do something about it, you shouldn't just stay quiet".