Australia’s gaffe-prone prime minister on Friday on publicly apologized for comparing the opposition party leader to German World War II-era propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels — the second Nazi-related comment he has withdrawn in a month.
Tony Abbott told Parliament on Thursday that Labor Party leader Bill Shorten was “the Dr. Goebbels of economic policy.”
Abbott immediately said he withdrew the comment, as opposition lawmakers yelled in protest.
Abbott said in a radio interview on Friday that the remark “shouldn’t have been said” and he apologized for it.
“I accept that in the context of history and the way things developed, that was an over-the-top remark,” Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. broadcaster Jon Faine, who is Jewish.
“All of us from time to time in the heat of debate — and you know how heated the Parliament can get — sometimes go too far. I accept that,” Abbott said.
But Abbott added that at least 11 lawmakers from the Labor Party had made similar references in the past, including Mark Dreyfus — one of only three Jewish lawmakers in Parliament.
On Thursday, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ordered Dreyfus out of the House of Representatives for rising from his seat to angrily berate the prime minister.
Fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby, also Jewish, left the chamber with Dreyfus in solidarity.
“There are no Nazis here and we shouldn’t be making comparisons with the paradigm of the ultimate evil in politics to heighten political differences,” Danby told The Associated Press later.
“It’s beneath him, and it goes to the question of his judgment. I think a lot of his backbench will be groaning and tearing their hair out,” Danby added.
Dreyfus, who in 2011 described an Abbott political campaign in a newspaper opinion piece as “Goebbellian,” described Abbott’s reference to the Nazi as inappropriate for a prime minister.
Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, a Jewish member of Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party, did not respond to a request for comment.
Abbott last month apologized to Parliament for describing a 10 percent reduction in defense industry jobs under a former Labor government as a “holocaust of jobs.”
Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Inc., an organization representing Jewish community organizations, declined to comment on Thursday because of his council’s apolitical stance.
But he referred AP to the council’s longstanding policy statement that it: “Deplores the inappropriate use of analogies to the Nazi genocide in Australian public debate.”
Abbott received an unexpected rebuke from the Irish prime minister this week for a St. Patrick’s Day video message broadcast online by his Liberal Party.
Wearing a green tie, Abbott apologized to Ireland because: “I can’t be there to share a Guinness or two or maybe even three.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told the Irish Independent newspaper he had seen Abbott’s comments and did not agree with them. Kenny told the newspaper he advocated responsible celebrations and rejected “a stage Irish perception.”
Some of Abbott’s government colleagues openly questioned his political judgment in January when he announced on Australia’s national day that he had granted Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip an Australian knighthood.
The disquiet helped trigger a challenge to his leadership within the ruling Liberal Party. While he survived a no-confidence ballot, his leadership is vulnerable while he remains unpopular in opinion polls.