Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for bipartisanship on laws to prevent gay students from being excluded by religious schools.
Mr Morrison told Parliament on Monday that there was consensus on removing the power of faith-based schools to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexuality – and it should be able to be done quickly.
“I’ve asked the Leader of the Opposition to come together with the government this week and deal with the issue [on] which … there is broad consensus,” he said.
“We’re prepared to do that in absolute good faith.”
But Labor is continuing to push for the laws to be extended to teachers. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also wants the ability of religious schools to hire and fire staff based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status to be scrapped.
“In my discussions with religious educators, it’s clear this is not an exemption that they use or want to use,” he said.
“These laws are no longer appropriate, if indeed they ever were appropriate. It’s time our laws reflected the values we teach our children.”
Labor found an unlikely ally in Dave Sharma, the Liberal Party’s candidate for the Wentworth by-election. Mr Sharma backed the plan, saying schools should “absolutely not” have the legislative right to discriminate against gay teachers.
“I believe that right should be removed to the extent it exists in laws passed in 2013 by the previous Labor government,” he told a pre-election debate in Sydney.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said earlier he expected laws protecting gay students from discrimination would pass parliament within days.
However, he would not say whether the same legislative support would be extended to gay teachers.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott said he was mystified by the debate, saying there was no evidence gay kids had been discriminated against.
“By all means let’s protect people against discrimination,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB.
“But let’s be very careful that anti-discrimination laws designed as shields are not converted by activists into swords.”
Debate around discrimination against gay students and teachers has flared up in the past week, after the leaking of a review into religious freedoms – led by former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock – which recommended allowing faith-based schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality.
The review said laws should be amended so religious schools had to publicly outline their policies and provide them to workers.
However, Mr Morrison has decided to abolish the exemptions to anti-discrimination laws altogether.
Religious schools in most states have been able to exclude LGBTI students since 2013, but have not used the powers.
Mr Morrison conceded the prospect had caused anxiety, and wants the issue dealt with swiftly.
“We have just got to ensure we get the thing done. No one plays politics with (it). We just fix it,” he said on Sunday.
“I hope we can do that without a whole bunch of posturing and hoopla. That we just actually get on with it. No one goes into point scoring. We just get it done.”
The Ruddock review was handed to the federal government in May but it is yet to provide a full response.