Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere says using a Nazi slogan in a debate was appropriate as he was comparing Mayor Phil Goff to Hitler.
On Tuesday evening, Tamihere and Goff took part in a mayoral debate at Ponsonby's Chapel Bar where they were asked about the future of Auckland for their grandchildren.
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Goff said he wanted them to grow up in an inclusive, diverse city, and called back to an earlier question over his support for banning controversial right-wing figures Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern from speaking in Council-owned venues.
"We won't put up with the sort of nonsense we get from racists coming into this country to tell us that multiculturalism doesn't work."
He said his soon-to-be-born grandson, who is of mixed-race parentage, will represent the future of Auckland.
"Well I say Sieg Heil to that," John Tamihere replied.
That comment - a rallying cry for members of the Nazi Party - has been widely criticised, but Tamihere says he doesn't regret it within the context of the 45-minute debate.
"The context is extraordinarily important. The question was would I ban two right-wing Canadians from use of Auckland city properties. The answer to that question is absolutely not," he told RNZ on Thursday morning.
"We have to defend the right for freedom of speech. You can't have a dictator determine that if you don't think like Goff you are not allowed to use the property."
He said using the comment was "fair enough" within that context and his critics weren't his "thought police".
"Sieg Heil for a guy that acts like Hitler is fair enough in a debate.
"This is a free country. I have a right to freedom of speech."
But Holocaust Centre of New Zealand chief executive Chris Harris says Tamihere's comment was offensive regardless of context.
"There is a clear difference between free speech and hate speech. Hate speech, must never, ever have a place in New Zealand. It is hard to think of a clearer example of the dictionary definition of hate speech than the words used by John Tamihere," Harris said in a statement.
Goff has also slammed the comment, calling it "irresponsible and stupid".
He defends suggestions he personally banned Molyneux and Southern from the city's facilities, saying he doesn't have that power and it was up to Regional Facilities Auckland.