Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark defends saying N-word, repeats it 8 times in Newshub interview

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark has defended his use of a derogatory word during a public event.

Clark, who beat New Zealand's longest-serving mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt at the last local elections, was speaking on the balance of hate speech and freedom of expression at an Art Foundation event on Tuesday when he made the comment.

"So you have got to close your ears if you have got a sensitive mind now," Clark said at the All In For The Arts event.

"But if we have art or poetry that uses words like queer, n*****, f*** the bitch, which I have heard recently, is that beyond our tolerance as a society and how does that interface with the right of people within the art world to have freedom of expression to push their points."

Clark has since received backlash for saying the word.

Speaking to Newshub, Clark clarified he is not comfortable with anyone using the word, regardless of their race, and when he said the word it wasn't him saying it as such, but reciting a statement from others.

"I would never refer to any situation as being a n***er. I absolutely find it abhorrent," Clark said.

"... I wasn't using those words as my words. I was reflecting that they'd been in the media and been in the art space in recent times, and I felt uncomfortable about that and I wanted to talk with them," Clark said.

But people on social media were upset the word still came from his mouth, instead of censoring it - and in an interview with Newshub, he said the N-word eight more times.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, whose role is to encourage and enhance harmonious communities, told Newshub he doesn't condone the use of the N-word in art, song or public expression - and especially not from people of leadership.

"We are constantly on a learning journey. As time passes, our understanding of issues and the impact of language evolve and some words are just not appropriate in today's world. It is important to not normalise the use of words which are derogatory or offensive to others. Some language which is casually used among friends and whānau could fit into that category. The 'N-word' holds a connection to a terrible and horrific history and in that light, caution should be taken around its use," Foon said.

"I would suggest the Mayor not use the word N again and apologises."

When asked whether he regrets saying the word in full, Clark responded "not at all".

"I was there to promote issues of sensitivity… I've prompted some unease and it's good that people feel uneasy," Clark said.

"Will I do the same thing again tomorrow? Absolutely. Should I apologise? Certainly not.

"We've got to have these tough debates about what is okay and what isn't okay in our society and I don't accept that artistic license can go beyond the expectations of our community and certainly not into the area of hate speech, which is where I see the poetry going."

Clark was referring to the controversial poem by Tusiata Avia in an Auckland show which received government funding via Creative NZ.

The poem discusses hunting James Cook, his descendants and white men like [him] with butchers knives - which Clark said is hate speech.

"My response to it has been why is it okay for a Pacific Island artist to use those words or some of those words in the poetry and be sponsored by a government funding agency but yet a Mayor of the city that's trying to promote some discussion around whether that's okay or not gets absolutely crucified," Clark said.

Clark said he is pushing a debate that he believes needs to be had.

"I think it's a derogatory statement and it doesn't matter whether it comes from a white face or brown face or black face. It's not right," Clark said.

"As governors of the art space, we should make sure that those derogatory statements are not legitimised by what people loosely call artistic expression, artistic license."