Australian Hindus demand apology after treasurer's 'demeaning' references to Indian religion

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time on Thursday. Source: AAP

Josh Frydenberg's attempt to make fun of his Labor opponent by comparing him to a practicing Hindu has offended many Hindus.

Australian Hindus are demanding an apology from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg for his “demeaning” references to the Indian religion during an attack on Labor. 

In an attempt to goad Labor’s treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers during Question Time on Thursday, Mr Frydenberg made repeated clichéd references to Hinduism and other Indian religions while criticising the Opposition’s idea of potentially pursuing a New Zealand-style “wellbeing budget”.

“[Labor] are inspired by their spiritual leader, the member for Rankin [Jim Chalmers],” Mr Frydenberg said while making hand gestures used during meditation.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 27, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg suggested Jim Chalmers would come "barefoot into the chamber, robes flowing, incense burning, beads in one hand".

“I was thinking yesterday, as the member for Rankin, [came] into the chamber fresh from his Ashram deep in the mountains of the Himalayas … barefoot into the chamber, robes flowing, incense burning, beads in one hand, wellbeing budget in the other, I thought to myself: ‘[what] yoga position the member for Rankin would assume … to deliver the first wellbeing budget?’”

The treasurer went on to name a series of yoga poses.

Video footage of the Question Time antics shows Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Nationals leader Michael McCormack and other senior Coalition figures laughing during Mr Frydenberg’s tirade.

On Friday, Hindus around Australia condemned the treasurer.

“Why was he trying to be demeaning towards Hindus in trying to counter the opposition? Would he dare to [do that] with other religions? I condemn his behaviour,” Ram Ramaswamy told SBS News.

“Hindus who are naturally aligned with the Liberals will have to rethink our alliance. Let these politicians understand they cannot take a peace-loving community for granted.”

Mitra Desai said she was deeply offended by the treasurer's "insult". 

"Painful still is the fact that this wasn't just an offhand ignorant statement made in passing ... it was deliberate well-rehearsed mockery and insult of Hindu practices. Would he dare to draw similar comparisons with other Abrahamic practices?" she said.

"I demand an unreserved apology." 

Hrishikesh Desai said Mr Frydenberg's rant was hurtful.

"The most hurtful aspect about this was that the treasurer made these comments to score cheap political points at the expense of an entire community," he said. 

Many pointed out that Hindu is the fastest-growing religion in Australia, according to the 2016 census. 

Liberal MP Dave Sharma defended Mr Frydenberg, telling SBS Hindi the comments were not racist.

“Josh was making a joke at Jim Chalmers’ expense, the shadow treasurer, that was really the focus of his joke. I don’t think anyone with a sense of humour would find that at all offensive,” Mr Sharma told SBS Hindi.

However, he apologised to those who felt offended.

Mr Frydenberg, who is Jewish, has been outspoken in recent months about the need to curb anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday, Mr Frydenberg commended a curriculum change in Victoria that will see secondary school students required to learn more about the Holocaust.

“Racism & hate stem from ignorance which is why education, particularly of our young, is so important” Mr Frydenburg tweeted in response to the announcement.

SBS News has contacted Mr Frydenberg's office for comment. 

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