Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been accused of failing to protect same sex couples after the Federal Government was recently instructed not to make submissions into an inquiry by the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

The accusation came from Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Jon Stanhope, whose state recently had a civil union law quashed by the country.

He said: “Earlier this month, when the Federal Government made shameful history by overturning the ACT’s Civil Unions legislation, senior Government figures were keen to have Australians believe that they were not motivated by anti-homosexual sentiment.

“And the Prime Minister himself has said on more than one occasion that he is in favour of removing discrimination on a case-by-case basis.

“Yet when his own statutory body charged with inquiring into discrimination decides to examine residual areas of financial discrimination against same-sex couples in this country, it seems the Federal Government is not even interested in knowing what the facts are, or whether the Federal Government itself might be a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

“It is curious, to say the least, for any government to issue a blanket instruction to its departments and agencies not to make a submission to any HREOC inquiry at all, but most particularly to an inquiry looking at an issue upon which the Prime Minister wants Australians to believe he is active.

“It is interesting that the Federal Government has not been so reticent in the past in making submissions to HREOC inquiries. The Department of Workplace Relations, for example, was happy to make a submission to the ‘Striking the Balance’ inquiry into work-life balance and the Commonwealth Government made a submission into the ‘Stolen Generations’ inquiry, just to name two.

“I wonder if there has been any previous occasion upon which departments and agencies have received a blanket instruction not to cooperate with a HREOC investigation?”

Mr Stanhope said that in light of these reports, the ACT Government, which had so recently been witness to the Federal Government’s true and deepest feelings on the rights and entitlements of gay and lesbian Australians, was entitled to question the Prime Minister’s repeated assertions that he was committed to non-discrimination.

“Actions, not rhetoric, are what counts in this debate, and the Federal Government’s actions tell the true story.”

Last week, the Australian Financial Review reported that the Government has issued a directive to all departments forbidding them from co-operating with the investigation, instead opting for looking at cases on an individual basis.

Mr Howard said: “I am in favour of removing areas of discrimination and we have and I’m quite happy on a case-by-case basis to look at other areas where people believe there’s genuine discrimination, but I think they should be looked at on a case by case basis.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Philip Ruddock told The Australian Financial Review that ministers had decided to instruct their departments not to make submissions, claiming it should be left to HREOC to do the work.