Calls for the resignation of New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Canada, Graham Kelly, persisted today despite his apologising “unreservedly to all New Zealanders” for comments described as racist made to a Canadian senate committee.
Mr Kelly, a former Labour MP, made references to Maori “fighting and eating each other”, to Asians “strip-mining” beaches of periwinkles and to a Pacific Island minister and his congregation “taking everything that moved” from a beach.
He also made scathing comments about fishing companies having lied.
His racial comments have sparked an outcry from opponents and embarrassed his former Labour colleagues.
Mr Kelly was giving evidence about New Zealand’s fisheries quota management system to the Senate committee on fisheries and oceans in Ottawa on April 14.
Last night, he issued a statement through Foreign Affairs in Wellington saying he had apologised to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Simon Murdoch, shortly after appearing before the committee and to Foreign Minister Phil Goff when he was in Ottawa this month.
“I now unreservedly apologise to all New Zealanders for the offence my remarks have caused.”
It is believed Mr Kelly did not first get clearance from Mr Murdoch before attending the committee as a former spokesman on fisheries, as he should have.
Mr Goff said yesterday that the comments had been out of character. They were meant to be light-hearted “but failed in that endeavour”.
But he ruled out recalling Mr Kelly or sacking him.
“If he had not been doing a good job as high commissioner, if he had not shown the energy and enthusiasm for representing New Zealand, you would look at that option.”
It is believed that the deputy commissioner in Ottawa, Andrew Needs, who accompanied Mr Kelly to the committee, alerted Wellington that controversial statements had been made and later sent a transcript.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Mr Kelly’s remarks were “extremely offensive” and it was not acceptable to pass them off as a joke.
“It’s not as if he was sitting around a kitchen table making a casual comment to a few friends.
“He has clearly shown to us that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a diplomat and he should come home.”
National MP Pansy Wong described Mr Kelly’s comments as racist and said he should step down.
She was astounded that he had put down a large section of the population in front of a foreign Government, and predicted a backlash in Asian communities.
“He can’t represent New Zealand if he wishes to voice racist opinions and alienate Asian New Zealanders.”
Labour MP John Tamihere said the days of cultural sensitivity over such statements were over.
“If any reasonable Canadian thought what he said about Maori was true, you’ve got to worry for the Canadian people and the Canadian Government.”
What Kelly said
* There were seven canoes that came in 740 from Hawaiki, so there are seven tribes. They all held each other’s hands to stop them from sinking on the voyage. Once they got to New Zealand, they started fighting and eating each other so there have been Maori wars ever since then.
* We often see them [Asian immigrants] strip mining a beach of periwinkles and having a boil-up.
* We had one case with a minister of religion on the shore, dressed up in his cassock and looking like Moses, and he had all his congregation of Pacific Islanders there strip-mining the beach. They were taking everything that moved. He said it was for the Lord. Well the Lord did not save him.