A western Sydney mayor who voted against an anti-racism campaign has launched defamation proceedings against the author of an online petition calling for his removal.
The Help me remove the racist Mayor of Cumberland, Sydney petition accuses Cumberland City mayor, Steve Christou, of making offensive statements about Muslim and Asian communities.
The petition has gathered close to 11,000 signatures, including Cumberland Labor councillor George Campbell, who said: “I support the broad thrust of the petition and I signed it.”
“The mayor’s behaviour and statements have certainly brought the council into disrepute,” he said.
But Cr Christou told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I am the child of Greek Cypriot refugees and am definitely not a racist.”
Cr Christou said he had experienced racism, and his wife and teenage daughters had their pictures posted on social media accompanied by offensive comments.
“I am concerned about any form of abusive and foul behaviour sent to Councillors or any member of our community,” he told the Australian media outlet. “This is not behaviour I would ever condone.”
The petition’s author, Rosh Veera, said the mayor had made public statements about Eid and a mosque development that she called “divisive.”
“I felt that he is not reflecting the views of our diverse cultural and religious community,” he said.
But Cr Christou, who resigned from the Labor Party in 2019 and was elected mayor with the support of Liberal and independent councillors, said political rivals upset by his success as mayor were behind the petition.
“The people behind this petition clearly have an agenda against me in the lead-up to the next election,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“They have spent their time constantly bad-mouthing and belittling me on various forms of social media and have dedicated themselves, on a full time basis, to smear my reputation with lies designed to create division and anger.”
The wrangle over the petition comes as Cumberland City Council last week voted against endorsing the Racism not Welcome campaign, spearheaded by former Socceroo Craig Foster, after Cr Christou used his casting vote to reject the proposal.
The motion moved by Labor councillors, Kun Huang and Suman Saha, also called on the council to install Racism Not Welcome street signs and note the “alarming rise in incidents of racism” in Australia and the local community.
The anti-racism campaign has been backed by the City of Sydney and Inner West, Ryde and Waverley councils, as well as the NSW Legislative Council, which last week unanimously endorsed a motion to support the campaign.
But Cr Christou said the motion was “poorly prepared” and lacked details about the cost and locations proposed for the street signs.
He said councils endorsing the campaign were “virtue signalling.”
“The motion was political grandstanding by members of the Labor Party in an attempt to score cheap points,” he said.
SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald.