The Wellington Regional Council scrambled to remove advertisements promoting a career in bus driving after it discovered a string of racist tweets by one of its poster boys.
Official information obtained by RNZ shows the council asked its bus drivers to front a campaign explaining why they joined the profession to encourage others to do the same. The advertisements, which cost more than $150,000, were posted online, in newspapers and on buses and billboards around the capital.
But staff were later forced to pull almost $20,000 worth of material after a member of the public sent them offensive tweets made by one of the drivers.
The driver has told RNZ the tweets are old and he’s deeply ashamed.
The capital has long been plagued by bus troubles and in April the Regional Council set out to tackle what it describes as the root of the problem – driver shortages.
The council asked its four operators, Tranzit Group, NZ Bus, Mana Coach Services and Madge Coachlines, to nominate bus drivers for a campaign promoting the profession to potential job seekers.
Mason Dowie and four other Wellington drivers were selected to appear in the ads, which were produced by an outside agency.
But in July, the council was alerted to a string of racist tweets made by Mr Dowie, on his now-private Twitter account, between 2011 and 2016.
“The tweets were brought to our attention by a member of the public. We felt it was completely inappropriate to have that driver as part of our recruitment campaign and so we withdrew that part of the campaign that featured that person,” said the council’s public transport general manager, Greg Pollock.
The 16 tweets appear to detail Mr Dowie’s views on a range of ethnicities and religions. In one, he complains about walking down Auckland’s Queen Street next to Indians and in another he said Māori people and drug addicts are the same thing.
The advertisements featuring Mr Dowie, which cost $19,291, were urgently removed, Mr Pollock said. “It wasn’t a huge job. Mostly the campaign is digital so that was the most immediate response we could make but there a few other physical adverts around, on bus backs for example, that we were able to remove reasonably quickly.”
Emails obtained by RNZ show staff scrambled to contact the four bus operators to get posters pulled from their fleet and from online streaming platforms.
As of yesterday morning, the video advertisement featuring Mr Dowie was still available to view on Metlink’s Facebook page. It has since been removed.
Mason Dowie said in a statement: “These were historical comments I made on Twitter as a teenager and on reflection, I’m deeply ashamed and can only apologise. Regarding the actions of Greater Wellington Regional Council, I accept their decision and took full responsibility at the time.”
Mr Dowie no longer works on the Metlink network and Mr Pollock said this was because of his tweets. “I think it’s probably unfair of me to go into any details, it’s really a matter between the employer and the employee.”
RNZ contacted Mr Dowie’s former employer, Tranzit, but did not receive a response.
The Wellington Regional Council is currently preparing for its second wave of recruitment advertisements, Mr Pollock said. Five drivers will be featured but unlike last time, their social media accounts will be vetted.
Mr Pollock said in hindsight, they should have looked at the social media accounts of the five drivers used in the first campaign.