Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere is being slammed for using the words "sieg heil" during a heated political debate with Phil Goff.

A 20-second edited excerpt of last night's debate at Chapel Bar in Ponsonby circulating on Twitter shows Tamihere responding to Goff's comment about enjoying Auckland for its multiculturalism with the words: "I say sieg heil to that."

"I love this city for its diversity and we won't put up with the sort of nonsense that we get from racists coming into this country to tell us that multiculturalism doesn't work," Goff says.

Host Martyn Bradbury then asks Tamihere what he wishes for the grandchildren of Auckland to which he replies: "I say sieg heil to that."

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In the extended version of the debate online, Goff replies: "Ha ha just like the Nazis? What do you mean by that, what do you mean by that? That's weird."

It even shocked host Bradbury who replied: "Jesus wept."

Tamihere went on to say that he had "never heard such a prepared speech delivered so boringly".

When asked by the Herald this afternoon what he meant by using those words, Tamihere said he was calling Goff a dictator in regards to the conversation they had 12 minutes earlier.

"Because he's a dictator. You go through the whole debate, it's in the context of a heated debate. You got to be very careful about having Phil Goff as a chief censor on how people can think, what they can say, where the can say it and all of it, that was the context of the issue of the banning of those Canadians coming to speak in Auckland.

Auckland Mayoral hopeful John Tamihere is being slammed online for using the words 'seig heil' during a political debate. Photo / File
Auckland Mayoral hopeful John Tamihere is being slammed online for using the words 'seig heil' during a political debate. Photo / File

"I think Aucklanders and Kiwis are grown up enough to determine who they can listen to and why and that we would as New Zealanders give them the opprobrium they justly deserve, but here's the thing. Who determines whether you can think something, speak something and engage in something and who says that it's hate speech?"

Tamihere said he didn't agree with what controversial couple Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern were saying, but it wasn't up to him to decide whether to let them into the country or not.

Molyneux and Southern are known for holding far-right views on immigration, feminism and Islam, and were initially due to speak at the Bruce Mason Centre on Auckland's North Shore last year.

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However, the event was later cancelled because of "security concerns around the health and safety of the presenters, staff and patrons".

At the time, Goff said they were not welcome to use city-owned venues, leading to court action by a pro-free-speech group.

When contacted, Goff said he was shocked by Tamihere's choice of words and wasn't sure what he meant by them.

When told it was in the context of the Molyneux debate, he said he didn't have the power to ban them from the country and it wasn't a decision that he could make.

However, he stood by his comments at the time that he opposed what they were wanting to say.

"It was really weird, I was pretty astounded when he said it, and personally I couldn't understand why he would say something like that.

"It's not the sort of thing that you would expect from a contender for the Auckland mayoralty, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and particularly you wouldn't expect it six months after the Christchurch terror attack.

"I was simply astounded that he came out with it, just out of the blue, for no particular reason and almost impossible to understand why he would have blurted something like that out."

Former prime minister Helen Clark, who ejected Tamihere from Cabinet while she was in office, said his comment was "appalling".

The Holocaust Centre of NZ issued a statement this afternoon saying it condemned the comments.

"Mr Tamihere uses Nazi language - the language of race hatred - in a throwaway manner," chief executive Chris Harris said.

"It is wrong, deeply irresponsible and inciting hate in one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities. It is utterly unacceptable for a public figure to evoke Hitler and the Nazis, as Mr Tamihere is doing."