Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he was not aware the gay partner of Australia’s ambassador to France was asked by his staff not to greet him when he arrived in Paris last month.
Mr Abbott has confirmed ambassador Stephen Brady’s partner, Peter Stephens, was asked to stay in the car – but blamed it on a junior official.
“My understanding is that there was some issue at the level of junior officials and I don’t concern myself with these things,” Mr Abbott said.
The Prime Minister said he did not know the request had been made because “I don’t normally concern myself with trivia”.
“All I want to say is that he’s a fine servant of Australia, a really fine servant of Australia. He’s a friend of mine, always has been and as far as I’m concerned always will be.”
Fairfax has reported Mr Brady offered his resignation after he defied the request from the Prime Minister’s office not to bring his partner to greet Mr Abbott when the Prime Minister’s plane touched down on Anzac Day.
The ABC has been told it is protocol for an ambassador’s partner or spouse to be part of a welcoming party when the prime minister is travelling with his or her spouse.
However, Margie Abbott did not travel with Mr Abbott to Paris.
Former ambassador to Belgium Brendan Nelson has confirmed the protocols.
“If the Prime Minister is visiting, normally the ambassador would go along on his or her own if the Prime Minister is unaccompanied but beyond that the story has all the hallmarks of a beat-up,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews also labelled the story “a bit of a beat-up”.
“In fact I had a very enjoyable dinner at Amiens with our ambassador to France and his partner, very enjoyable dinner the night before Anzac Day so I don’t think there’s too much in all of this,” he told reporters in Canberra.
On Tuesday night, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Mr Abbott to explain what happened.
A day later, Mr Shorten was suggesting the Prime Minister or his office might have a leak.
“I also wonder how this story has dribbled out from the Foreign Affairs department,” he said.
“It shows to me some disunity within the Government, quite frankly.”