06 May 2015
by Peter Hartcher
Ambassador to France offers resignation after 'bizarre' Abbott airport incident
Australia's ambassador to France, Stephen Brady, pictured during his time as official secretary to the governor-general.
Australia's ambassador to France offered his resignation after an incident while greeting Tony Abbott as he arrived in Paris on Anzac Day.
According to multiple sources, the ambassador, Stephen Brady, was on the airport tarmac with his partner of 32 years, Peter Stephens, waiting to meet the incoming plane around 7pm Paris time.
The prime minister's travelling party sent an instruction that Mr Stephens should not take part in the greeting but should wait in the car.
Peter Stephens and Stephen Brady.
It is understood that no explanation was given.
The ambassador, a career diplomat and formerly the official secretary to two governors-general, refused the instruction.
Word of the incident, described privately by Canberra officials as "bizarre" and "extraordinary", spread quickly through diplomatic circles.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott did not deny that it had occurred but said: "The prime minister was very happy to be met by Ambassador Brady and his partner when he arrived in Paris last month."
Mr Brady later offered his resignation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
It is understood that his resignation was rejected. Mr Brady still serves as ambassador. He declined to comment.
In the wake of the story, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Mr Abbott to explain the incident.
"Australians deserve an explanation from Tony Abbott and if it's true, Ambassador Brady and his partner deserve an apology,"
he told Fairfax Media.
The arrival was a small non-ceremonial event. It took place not at the main Paris airport but at the smaller airport reserved for private jets, Le Bourget. France was represented by a junior protocol officer.
Mr Brady and Mr Stephens were the world's first openly gay ambassadorial couple to be formally recognised when Mr Brady took up the post of ambassador to Denmark in 1999.
He served as official secretary to Dame Quentin Bryce and her successor, Sir Peter Cosgrove until the Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, appointed him to the Paris post last year.
Mr Abbott hosted a farewell dinner for Mr Brady and Mr Stephens when the couple left Canberra to take up the Paris job.
The prime minister also invited them to a staff dinner in Paris on April 26.
Mr Brady was given an Order of Australia on Australia Day this year for his "distinguished service to successive Australian governments".
Diplomats and officials in Canberra and abroad have been discussing a number of stories of micromanagement by the prime minister's travelling party on his Europe trip.
The close control of Mr Abbott's arrangements by his staff was one of the most often cited sources of disgruntlement with his leadership when a spill motion was moved against him in February.
After the Gallipoli ceremonials for Anzac Day, Mr Abbott visited France to unveil the design of the Sir John Monash centre at the site of a World War One battlefield at Villers-Bretonneux.
The centre, named after the brilliant Australian general whose strategy broke Germany's advance, is intended as a way of explaining Australia's wartime involvement.
Mr Abbott also held talks with the French president, Francois Hollande, on intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism.
The government's Assistant Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told ABC's Radio National he doubted story was true, and rushed to praise the Ambassador's credentials.
Mr Frydenberg said he understood the Prime Minister had been "willing and wanting to meet them both" during an interview on the ABC's Radio National on Tuesday night.
"I doubt that [the story] would be true, because as I understand it the Prime Minister was very happy to meet the both of them. In fact the prime minister knows Stephen Brady very well, no doubt he has met his partner Peter before," he said.
Mr Frydenberg said he had been a good friends with Mr Brady for years and he was "a fantastic and loyal diplomat".
He rejected suggestions it was "sinister" that the Prime Minister's office had not denied the story, and suggested "there may be issues around protocol".
"I doubt the story is what people are trying to make it out to be because the prime minster would have a great deal of respect for Stephen Brady and no doubt would have been happy to meet his partner as I understand he was," he said.