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Labor acting in bad faith on religious freedom in schools, says PM

“I wrote to them in good faith and all honesty and said to them, ‘We’re happy to work with you on this’, and we put one proposal to them and they didn’t agree on that,” he said.

“We worked up another proposal to them, in the last sitting fortnight, and sent it to them, and never heard back. The first we heard was Dreyfus on ABC Radio making it a political issue.

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“Now I made it pretty clear that I was prepared to address this and I did not want it to be a political football, and the reason we wanted to address this is we didn’t want children or their parents suffering from needless anxiety about this issue.

“So I’m very disappointed at the very partisan political way that they’ve now sought to address this.”

Mr Morrison promised in October to amend a provision in the Sex Discrimination Act that gives religious schools an exemption from the laws, amid concerns that schools had the power to expel gay students.

Many religious schools, backed by MPs within the Coalition, believe some sort of exemption is needed so they can hire teachers who work with the ethos of the school.

Fairfax Media revealed in October that the government’s confidential review of religious freedom recommended the exemption be modified but retained, sparking a debate about the scale of the special treatment for religious schools.

Labor's Penny Wong said the ALP could not wait for the government.

Labor’s Penny Wong said the ALP could not wait for the government.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong introduced a Labor bill to the Senate last week to ensure schools could not discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality, arguing Labor could not wait for the government.

“We know there is broad support across Parliament to deal with the issue of staff,” Senator Wong told the Senate.

“We are dealing now with the issue for children and we accept there are complexities in relation to the issues of teachers and staff, and we intend to continue to work with relevant stakeholders on this.

“However, we are not prepared to hold up the change for students while that work goes on.”

Mr Morrison expressed frustration with Labor for rejecting the two approaches he had made on the issue.

“I sought to do it in good faith, and I’m disappointed by the bad faith Labor has shown,” the Prime Minister said.

He said the “constructive proposal” from the government would have allowed non-state schools to “continue to be non-state schools” while putting in the rules for students.

“That was not about discriminating against any individuals at all, it was just the ability to have practical codes of behaviour at schools,” he said of the government plan.

“And Labor are selling out the non-state school sector really significantly because of the voices in their own party room that are very anti-independent and non-state schools.”

David Crowe is the chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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