A public health sign at Auckland swimming pools has been labelled 'casual racism' by Labour MP Tamati Coffey.

The sign, which is making the rounds on social media, features a cartoon of a white child telling a coloured child not to pee in the pool.

"Hemi, stop! Make sure you visit the toilet before you swim!" the sign reads.

Coffey posted a photo of the sign on Facebook yesterday, seeking details of where it was so he could "speak to the manager".


The post has since garnered hundreds of reactions and comments, with many debating whether the sign is racist or a simple health warning to children.

Anybody know which pool this sign lives at? Its been doing the FB rounds. I need to speak to the Manager.

Posted by Tamati Coffey - Labour MP for Waiariki on Thursday, 17 January 2019

"I am an older female of European descent and I don't like the sign. I very much doubt a little girl would running around saying this kind of thing to other kids," one person responded.

"So it is not realistic and horribly drawn. If a sign is really necessary it should be one that reminds everyone to use the toilet before going in the pool."

Another said, "It's funny at first glance. But then you realise the racial profiling. And it's not funny anymore.

"We are so conditioned to subtle racism, that we just laugh and say nothing.

"Bet if the sign had Hemi the lifeguard approach little Sally saying, "Hey Sally - have you been to the toilet first?" ... the complaints would be high and nigh impossible to silence! So yeah Tamati you go speak to the Pool Manager and have them take it down. Good on you bro!"

While others saw the sign as "innocent" and a simple reminder for kids to remember to use the toilet.

Code Brown! Figures reveal Auckland's 'pooiest' pools between January and March 2018.
A further example of the signs used by Auckland Council across the business. Photo / Supplied
A further example of the signs used by Auckland Council across the business. Photo / Supplied

"I just saw it as a sign, regarding safety around the pool, with no hidden agenda," one person wrote.


Another said, "If it stops kids crapping in the pool it's a good thing."

Auckland Council general manager of parks sports and recreation, Mace Ward, said the sign was designed as part of a marketing campaign in response to potential public health issues.

"The characters Hemi and Molly are used across Auckland Council's marketing materials and were designed to appeal to young Aucklanders," he said.

"This particular sign was part of a series and it was not our intent to upset anyone. The campaign was created in response to potential public health issues and as a result we've have fewer pool shutdowns and less risk to human health."

A council spokesperson said another sign in this series also pictured Molly pooing in a swimming pool, and Hemi telling her to get a lifeguard.

However, Ward apologised for any offence the sign may have caused.


"We're removing our signs from our leisure centres and will take a look at the whole campaign," he said.

Coffey said he was pleased that the council had listened to public concerns and suggested that its signs should use "neutral characters" such as ducks.

"Neutral characters would save any kind of embarrassment for many young Māori and Pacific Island kids who might be unfortunately targeted around pools as being the sinister ones that are doing all the damage," he said.

"It's quite hard anyway to get young Māori and Pacific kids to the pools, especially to learn to swim.

"Anything that makes them wary about going in, i.e. little signs that target them about being the ones that defecate in the pools, is not necessarily a good thing.

"I'm pleased that the council has taken time to review their campaign."