CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister on Wednesday brushed off controversy over his office’s treatment of the gay partner of the Australian ambassador to France.
Ambassador Stephen Brady offered to resign after a disagreement involving Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reception at Le Bourget Airport in Paris last month, Fairfax Media reported.
Abbott’s traveling party sent an instruction that Brady’s partner of 32 years, Peter Stephens, should not take part in greeting Abbott on the tarmac and should wait in a car, Fairfax reported.
Brady ignored the instruction and Stephens remained by his side to welcome Abbott as he arrived from Turkey. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade later rejected Brady’s resignation, Fairfax reported.
Abbott said on Wednesday he had not known at the time that his office had told Stephens to wait in a car.
“No. Look, I’m the prime minister and I don’t normally concern myself with trivia,” Abbott told reporters. “My understanding is that there was some issue at the level of junior officials and I don’t concern myself with these things.”
Abbott described Brady as “a very distinguished public servant” and a “friend” who remained ambassador to France.
The controversy comes as the Australian Parliament considers legislating to allow same-sex marriage in Australia. Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party opposes gay marriage.
The incident also underscores criticisms of Abbott’s office that it unnecessarily ruffles feathers by attempting to micromanage events involving the prime minister.
The opposition Labor Party demanded that Abbott explain.
“If Stephen Brady felt that he needed to offer his resignation because of the acts of his prime minister or his staff, then this is an absolute disgrace,” Labor lawmaker Richard Marles told Fairfax.
Abbott’s office on Wednesday would neither confirm nor deny that one of its officials had objected to Stephens taking part in the greeting.
“The prime minister was very happy to be met by Ambassador Brady and his partner when he arrived in Paris last month,” was the office’s only response.
A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said protocol dictated that ambassadors brought their partners to greet the prime minister only when the prime minister was traveling with his spouse.
Abbott went to dinner in Paris with the ambassador and his partner the night after his arrival, the official said.
Brady did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press requesting comment.
Same-sex couples in Australia enjoy many of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, although they cannot marry.
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