Scott Morrison under pressure as religious discrimination debate causes election headache

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he won't give up on passing laws to shield people of faith from discrimination. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he won't give up on passing laws to shield people of faith from discrimination. Picture: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces the prospect of another internal revolt as he seeks to revive his failed religious discrimination bill without extending immediate protections to gay and transgender students.

Two of the five Liberals who crossed the floor during debate in the Federal Parliament have signalled they could do so again, creating another headache for the Prime Minister as he fights for re-election.

The religious discrimination debate has emerged as an election issue as both major parties reaffirmed their commitment to legislating protections for Australians of faith.

But neither the Coalition or Labor has set a timeframe for dealing with an issue which has exposed divisions inside both parties.

Mr Morrison said he remained committed to passing a religious discrimination bill if re-elected on May 21, having broken his promise to deliver one in the previous term of parliament.

"I don't give up on these things and I pursue them in the right way," he told reporters on Sunday.

Facing another day of intense questioning on the issue, Mr Morrison said he wanted to pass the bill before any changes were made to the Sex Discrimination Act to prevent faith-based schools discriminating against LGBTIQ+ students.

He refused to be drawn on the interval between the two changes.

The Morrison government had originally planned to deal with the issues separately, but agreed to fast-track protections for students in order to secure support from a group of moderate Liberals.

Anthony Albanese and Bennelong candidate Jerome Laxale speak with voters at the Ryde Wharf Markets in Sydney. Picture: AAP

Anthony Albanese and Bennelong candidate Jerome Laxale speak with voters at the Ryde Wharf Markets in Sydney. Picture: AAP

But after the Coalition party room only agreed to shield gay students, Katie Allen, Bridget Archer, Dave Sharma, Trent Zimmerman and Fiona Sharma sided with Labor and the crossbench to pass protections for transgender students.

The revolt angered conservative Coalition members and Christian groups, causing the government to shelve the bill.

Mr Morrison's decision to pursue the changes "sequentially" threatens to trigger another rebellion.

Dr Allen on Sunday said her position hadn't changed from when she crossed the floor.

"I will always protect gay and trans students," she said after being swamped by journalists and TV crews at a Liberal Party rally in Melbourne.

Ms Archer told Australian Community Media that her position remained the same.

Mr Morrison defended his position by arguing that religious discrimination and protection for students were important, but separate, issues.

The Prime Minister said there was "no evidence" LGBTQIA+ students were being discriminated against in religious schools, and pushed back at suggestions his stance could harm the mental health of students.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Friday used a speech to a Hindu Council event to reaffirm his commitment to passing religious discrimination laws, which would include anti-vilification provisions.

Labor has backed protections for all students at religious schools.

Mr Albanese on Sunday said he was "astonished" Mr Morrison had walked away from an apparent commitment to deal with the issues at the same time, referring to a letter the Prime Minister had sent the opposition leader on December 1 setting out his plan to tackle the legislation.

However, Mr Albanese wouldn't say when a Labor government would attempt to make the changes.

This story 'I don't give up': Morrison faces internal revolt as religious discrimination debate flares again first appeared on The Canberra Times.