The leftwing Australian federal government has threatened to veto a move by the capital region to legalize same sex civil partnership, provoking criticism from liberals.
On Sunday, the Kevin Rudd administration announced it had warned the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) government it would use Commonwealth powers to scuttle any laws to introduce civil partnerships in Canberra. It argued such a move would too closely mimic marriage.
But some ruling Labor MPs reacted strongly saying that the threat flew in the face of a mandate the Stanhope government had from Canberra voters to introduce the legal reforms.
Northern Territory Labor President Trish Crossin, who is also a senator, said she could not support the use of Commonwealth powers to intervene in a territory's laws.
"I think the layperson would fail to understand why you can have a democratically elected government that is treated different from the other states,'' she told The Australian Online.
Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek who has campaigned for gay and lesbian rights in the past, declined to endorse the intervention.
"I am not going to comment on it, it is a matter for the Attorney-General,'' she said.
ACT Labor MP Annette Ellis said today she was concerned in principle over the intervention but needed more time to study the laws the ACT was proposing to determine whether she agreed it was too close to marriage.
"(But) It's no secret that I have made speeches in the past that I believe the territory is able to govern itself,'' she said.
But ACT senator Kate Lundy and Labor MP Bob McMullan were not available for comments - prompting claims of gutlessness from the Liberal Party.
Liberal senator Gary Humphries remarked angrily, "I am appalled at their gutlessness over this issue. They lined up three deep in 2006 to condemn the arrogance of the Howard government for telling the ACT which laws it could enact and they now they sheepishly endorse this.''
Senator Humphries, a former ACT chief minister said it was an issue beyond gay rights, illustrating that self-government for the ACT, which was granted in 1988, was being trampled on.
"Usually in politics there's a fig leaf of difference between the circumstances that allow a government to back flip from what they did in opposition. There's no fig leaf here,'' he said.
Left-wing Rudd ministers including Tanya Plibersek would not publicly endorse the decision.
"I don't believe in the intervening once a territory has made that decision,'' she said.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said today the Rudd government had kowtowed to conservative Christians.
"My view of that is they have been beholden to the extreme right of the Christian lobby in Australia,'' Corbell told ABC Radio.
"They feel that it's more important to satisfy their views than accept that the ACT is self-governing and has the right to make these laws for itself.''