Australia's reputation as a laid-back, easy-going nation of sunworshippers is under threat from a plan by conservatives to force women to cover up on some of the country's most popular beaches.
Christian MP and veteran morals campaigner Reverend Fred Nile, who is planning to introduce a bill to parliament banning topless sunbathing, said high community standards should be observed in public places.
"The law should be clear. It must say exposure of women's breasts on beaches will be prohibited," he said.
The bill has won the support of Labour government MP Paul Gibson, who told the Sydney Daily Telegraph that families at the beach during the summer holidays did not want to see topless women.
"If you're on the beach do you want somebody with big knockers next to you when you're there with the kids?" he asked. Elysee Palace
But some Australians, keen to protect their relaxed beachgoing lifestyle at the height of summer, have reacted angrily to the proposal.
Local councils, which are responsible for enforcing clothing standards at beaches, currently do not fine or prohibit topless bathers because they do not regard bare breasts as nudity.
NSW Assistant Health Minister Jodi McKay said banning topless sunbathing was a step too far. "We don't want to go down the slippery slope of banning activities like this. What would be next, banning breastfeeding?" she said. topless sunbathing
Leanne Peters from the ACT Nudist Club in the capital Canberra said Australia would look like a "haven for prudes" in the unlikely event that laws passed parliament.
Topless sunbathing has been common on most beaches in Australia since the 1960s. Nude beaches are also legal in every state except Queensland.
Ban on topless sunbathing urged for Australian beaches
British tourists enjoying the hot weather and cool water at Coogee beach in Sydney couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Lisa Clarke, 32, said she had sunbathed topless at several beaches on the Australian east coast but no one seemed to take any notice. "I don't see what the big deal is," she said.