Most tourist seasons in New Zealand have a theme. Some years it’s backpacker attacks, some years it’s the ongoing war on freedom campers, but overall the underlying thread is the love hate relationship New Zealand has with tourists, tolerated for nothing more than the wealth they bring and despised simply for being there.
This year’s theme has been the allegedly poor driving skills of overseas tourists of non-European appearance. These are ‘so bad’ in that in some New Zealanders’ opinions they now have the right to stop foreign looking tourists, assault them and confiscate their hire car keys. This is despite the fact that only 6% of crashes in New Zealand involve foreign drivers.
Incredibly, Tony Kokshoorn, mayor of the Grey District Council, reckons drivers are so distracted by the scenery they forget to steer properly and drift to the side of the road they’re used to driving on. Because no other countries have scenery, right?
But official figures show the majority of foreign driver accidents involve nationals from countries with better roads than New Zealand’s and who are used to driving on the left (British and Australians). At least Kokshoorn had the good grace to condemn the actions of one individual in his own town who punched a tourist in the face for driving on the wrong side of the road. Yet that crime wouldn’t have been lodged as a racist attack.
The international press is well aware of New Zealand’s spate of xenophobic spite, read International Press Gets to Hear About NZ’s Anti Tourist Drivers Campaign based on a CNN report.
The local press has been skirting around this issue too. Last month the Otago Daily Times (ODT) ran an article about a Dunedin man who snatched the keys from an overseas driver.
Diesel mechanic, Robert Penman of Dunedin, made headlines in March after he took the keys of a Chinese couple who had stopped their car on a narrow single-lane road to take pictures, causing a backlog of vehicles behind them. Other people have since copied him at least four times elsewhere in New Zealand. It was later revealed that Penman didn’t even have a current driving license himself. So much for ‘vigilante justice’
The ODT requested an interview with Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, it was rejected. So the paper lodged an Official Information Act request for all documents to and from the commissioner. Here’s the result, as told by today’s NZ Herald.
The first email, from an undisclosed employee of the Human Rights Commission immediately following the OIA request, advised the commissioner to “ignore calls and don’t answer phone“.
“Media are after you for comment on foreign drivers getting keys taken off them … we really don’t want to get into this … Police have had their say, PM is all over it etc etc so we are best to leave it at this.”
Note, the PM is also the Minister for Tourism.
A follow-up email to the commissioner said: “I want to keep comments from me so that you are not seen to be commenting on this issue at all … Right now we’ve had no complaints and it’s an operational policing issue that needs to be sorted out at that level immediately, it is also anecdotal with a lot of media hype.”
In an interview in March with TV3’s The Nation Dame Devoy was asked when she last heard of keys being snatched from a European looking driver, said she didn’t want to comment because it ‘wasn’t a race relations issue.’
”I was asked to comment, and I didn’t because we don’t want to make everything into a race relations issue. I think that’s a tourism issue.”
Accordingly not a single complaint has been passed on to the commissioner about these attacks on foreigners. Furthermore, the Prime Minister himself has taken control of the situation, effectively preventing anyone else investigating the matter.
Here’s what a migrant who lived in New Zealand has to say.
I have lived in NZ for 4 years to present & i can confidently report that they are the worst & most dangerous drivers i have ever encountered. I have driven in UK, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, USA, Ireland. The drivers in Auckland, Wellington are probably the most able drivers in NZ from my experience, probably as a result of the numbers of people driving in these two cities. However, the rest of NZ consists of small isolated towns populated by arrogant, xenophobic inbred examples of humanity & it is in the rest of NZ that you really have to drive defensively. NZ drivers really do not have a clue how to drive safely. New Zealanders are currently stopping foreign tourists when they believe that they are driving incorrectly in NZ & taking their car keys away from them with force! This is further example of the ingrained xenophobic & racist attitudes many New Zealanders have towards citizens from other countries.
Planning a New Zealand holiday? maybe think about going somewhere that doesn’t have an issue with tourists.
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