Australian PM denies issue with gay ambassador to France

Australian PM denies issue with gay ambassador to France
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office Tuesday denied any controversy involving a meeting with the nation's ambassador to France, who is gay.

The denial came after a media report said the diplomat had offered to resign, following an incident at a Paris airport when Abbott was travelling for World War I commemorations last month.

The prime minister was to be received on the tarmac at Le Bourget airport by ambassador Stephen Brady, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

But Abbott's staff asked that Brady's partner, Peter Stephens, not take part in the greeting and remain in the car, without giving an explanation, the newspaper said, citing multiple sources.

According to the Herald's sources, Brady was "literally screaming" at the protocol officer who passed on the request.

Brady reportedly refused, took Stephens along to meet Abbott and later offered his resignation to the foreign affairs department, but it was rejected, the report said.

A spokesman for Abbott told AFP "the prime minister was very happy to have been met by ambassador Brady and his partner when he arrived in Paris".

A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would not comment on the reported resignation offer and referred all requests for comment to Abbott's office.

The ambassador himself had declined to comment for the story, the Herald said.

Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his leader had much respect for Brady and the incident may have stemmed from "issues around protocol".

"I certainly don't think it would be sinister," Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

A government source said that under diplomatic protocol, the welcoming party's partner or spouse would be involved in the ceremony only if the Australian leader was travelling with his or her own partner.

Abbott's wife Margie did not travel to Paris with him.

Brady was appointed to the Paris job by Bishop last year, and the Herald said that he and his partner were given a farewell dinner by Abbott on leaving Canberra.

Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten called for an explanation from Abbott about the airport incident and said the couple "deserved an apology" if the story was true.

The conservative government of Abbott, whose sister Christine is gay, is opposed to same-sex marriage and the party has refused to allow a free vote among its lawmakers on the issue.

Australia lags behind a growing number of countries on gay marriage, including Britain and neighbouring New Zealand, and some American states.

On Twitter, the Paris airport story was among the top trending topics in Australia.

"Australia asks Tony Abbott to wait in the car while they get on with the 21st century," one user tweeted.

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