Josh Frydenberg has apologised "for any offence taken" as a result of his references to Hinduism in Federal Parliament last week.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has apologised for a “joke” in Parliament last week that was deemed by many Australian Hindus to be offensive.
Mr Frydenberg made repeated clichéd references to Hinduism and other Indian religions for several minutes as he ridiculed Labor's Jim Chalmers and his suggestion to implement a New Zealand-style “wellbeing budget”.
The performance sparked criticism from many Australian Hindus, with the Hindu Council of Australia describing the comments as “brazen, racist and Hindu-phobic”.
The treasurer’s comments also drew the ire of several Labor MPs, including Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally and communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland.
On Tuesday, Mr Frydenberg apologised, saying "no offence was intended".
“The butt of the joke was Labor’s Jim Chalmers and his thought bubble of a wellbeing budget. No offence was intended but of course I apologise for any offence taken,” he said in a statement to SBS Hindi.
Video footage of Mr Frydenberg’s Question Time antics showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Nationals leader Michael McCormack and other senior Coalition figures laughing along.
While Mr Frydenberg’s comments were widely criticised, some have also jumped to his defence.
Liberal MP Dave Sharma told SBS Hindi last Friday 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,” he said.
Vasan Srinivisan, chair of the Confederation of Indian Australian Association, a group that does not appear to have an official website or social media pages, said in a statement it was “very clear” Mr Frydenberg’s comments “were not aimed at Hindu faith but rather a jest about neo-hippie financial theories”.
Finance Minister Matthias Cormann tweeted the statement, adding Mr Frydenberg “appropriately used humour to make a serious point”.
Mr Frydenberg, who is Jewish, has been outspoken in recent months about the need to curb anti-Semitism.