Calls to sack former Australian politician for calling Māori contractor 'gorilla'

Michael Kitzelmann is the general manager of the Balranald Council.
Michael Kitzelmann is the general manager of the Balranald Council. Photo credit: Balranald Council

There are growing calls for the general manager of an Australian council to be sacked after he allegedly made racist remarks about a Māori contract worker.

In November 2019 Bayard Tokohihi Heke said he attended a meeting at Balranald Council, in New South Wales in regards to an upcoming concreting project he was working on.

The 48-year-old says while discussing the project's design council boss Michael Kitzelmann, a former Liberal Party candidate, called him a "gorilla" multiple times, news.com.au reported.

"The meeting was about putting an emblem or figure in the concrete, like the frog shapes that had been put in the concrete pavement along the shopping centre," a statement from Heke read.

"One woman suggested a frog shape, and another suggested handprints and asked me if it would be OK. I said it didn't matter to me.

"Michael Kitzelmann, the general manager, said, 'None of that, we'll have Tooks' gorilla head imprinted in the concrete'."

In a complaint filed in March, Heke alleges Kitzelmann made the comment twice more leaving him feeling "hurt, offended, angry and upset".

But Kitzelmann has denied the claims of racism, saying they are "untrue, vile and vexatious", news.com.au reported.

"It was a jocular exchange between myself and another council staff member and was not directed at Mr Heke," he said.

In a letter to Heke, Kitzelmann said he did not intend "to cause insult or upset".

"The intent of the banter was to create a jovial environment where everyone enjoyed the work they were doing."

But Heke told news.com.au the letter only made him angrier.

"He acknowledged the fact he'd made the comments, and just brushed it off as banter and a joke … I'm at a loss to believe he's sincere about his apology."

Heke's lawyer Peter Jess and the local state MP Helen Dalton are calling for Kitzelmann to be stood down.

"It's 2020, racism is not banter," Ms Dalton said, ABC News reported.

Jess agreed saying: "To categorise people of colour as subhumans is the most significant denigration you can have in our society. We should have zero tolerance to this".

"The behaviour is simply not acceptable, even worse if you're the appointee of the government."

Dalton says if no action is taken she will bring the incident to the Human Rights Commissioner. 

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