Wellington Scoop

Bob Jones hasn’t read the petition that he claims defamed him

Report from RNZ
Sir Robert Jones has admitted he has never read the petition calling for his knighthood to be revoked that he claims defamed him.

The petition, which has over 90,000 signatures, was started by filmmaker Renae Maihi, following a column published in NBR in 2018 by Sir Robert. In it, he calls for Waitangi Day to be replaced with Māori Gratitude Day, where Māori bring Pākehā breakfast in bed out of gratefulness for existing.

Sir Robert was all set to take the witness stand for cross-examination in the High Court in Wellington today when he realised he’d forgotten his hearing aid, causing an hour long adjournment. It couldn’t be located, but once another hearing device was found, the cross-examination of Sir Robert could finally get underway again.

Sir Robert was questioned by Maihi’s lawyer Davey Salmon as to whether he had read the petition in full.

“I’ve never read her petition, I admit that, all I know is that I was aware she was running a petition on the knighthood proposition, which is insulting. I formed the view that her motives were dishonest… I don’t have to read what she wrote.”

Sir Robert also claimed in the NBR column that there are no full-blooded Māori left, and that if it had not been for “Brits”, Māori would no longer exist.

When questioned by Salmon as to whether he knew that the notion of blood-quantum was “deeply controversial”, Sir Robert said no. “It’s ridiculous, I’ve never suggested that, blood knows no racial division – Māori blood is the same as our blood, we’re talking about ancestry.”

It was at that point – and not for the first time – that Justice Thomas had to stop Sir Robert and tell him “unless you want me to do this every five minutes, can you please just listen to the questions, and answer the questions”.

An expert witness for the defence is expected to take the stand to discuss the notion of blood quantum later in the trial.

Sir Robert accepted that “what’s upsetting for one person, might not be for another” when it was put to him by Salmon, but dismissed the possibility that Maihi may be upset at his views on race and Treaty issues.

“How much do we tolerate of ridiculous offence-taking,” Sir Robert said.

Outside the courthouse, 81-year-old Ken Finlay, from Ngāti Kahungunu, was protesting against Sir Robert.

“I’ve got grandchildren who are Māori and I want them to live in a country that they can feel comfortable in.” Finlay said people on the receiving end of Sir Robert’s sense of humour “don’t find it funny”.

The author of Once We Were Warriors, Allan Duff, and Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Relations Dame Margaret Clark are expected to take the witness stand for Sir Robert later this week.

Report from RNZ – February 10
The first day of the defamation trial taken by millionaire Sir Robert Jones kicked off in the High Court at Wellington today to a packed public gallery.

The trial relates to a petition by film maker Renae Maihi, who called for Sir Robert’s knighthood to be revoked after he wrote in an NBR column in 2018 that Waitangi Day should be replaced with Māori Gratitude day. The column said Māori should bring Pākehā breakfast in bed, and weed their gardens out of gratitude for existing – which Sir Robert Jones’ defence claims was satire.

In his opening remarks, Sir Robert’s lawyer Fletcher Pilditch said his client has been a prolific author, who has been published in almost every paper in New Zealand.

“Typically the plaintiff’s writing is humorous, often they’ve been designed to provoke comment, or encourage readers to take themselves less seriously. The plaintiff subscribes to the belief that laughter is the best medicine, and to never take life too seriously.”

He said the column was clearly of a “tongue and cheek” nature as it was included under the subheading, “Time for a Troll’.

Pilditch said the petition made serious and offensive allegations, and spurred a hate-campaign against his client, which resulted in him being he called a “white supremacist”, “turd” and “scum” by online commentators.

The definition of racism and hate speech was raised by Justice Thomas.

Pilditch said hate-speech laws were not intended to protect people from offence, but he expected the defence team may have different views on how hate speech and racism is defined.

The first of the witnesses for the plaintiff was Sir Robert Jones himself, who spoke about having two part-Maori children, and “numerous Māori friends”. Sir Robert said he had also supported numerous charities which have helped Māori, including setting up a women’s refuge in Blenheim in the 80s and sitting on the national council for Women’s Refuge for 12 years.

He said he gave Renae Maihi multiple chances to stop repeating her defamatory remarks before taking legal action.

“Despite my life-long involvement with writing, I have enormous difficulty expressing the sheer degree of anger I feel about Maihi’s unforgivable and disgraceful, personal attention-seeking efforts at my expense.”

Maihi’s petition has 90,000 signatures.

Her lawyer, Davey Salmon, has been cross-examining Sir Robert on the over 50 columns he has written.

Maihi’s defence is that of honest opinion, truth and absolute privilege.

The trial is set down for two weeks.