The Australian government plans to amend the nation's sex discrimination laws to encourage more men to become teachers.
Last week, prime minister John Howard introduced legislation to give state education departments and Catholic school authorities the right to provide men-only scholarships.
Only 20 per cent of primary teachers are male, with the proportion dropping to 14 per cent in some Catholic schools.
Last year the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission rejected an application from Catholic schools in Sydney for a five-year exemption from the sex discrimination Act so they could offer men scholarships.
Mr Howard said amending the sex discrimination laws to allow this was common sense. There were 250 state schools in New South Wales alone that had no male teachers, he said.
But the Labor opposition said it would vote against the change, which has also been criticised by teacher unions and Pru Goward, the sex discrimination commissioner, appointed by Mr Howard.
Ms Goward said that instead of changing the laws teaching should be marketed to make it attractive to men. She said the government should boost the pay and status of teaching and pay levels to get men into the profession rather than undermine equality.
"It's probably better to raise salaries for teachers and raise the status of the profession as a whole, if you want to attract more boys to do the job," she said. "Also, in the end, you'd end up with a higher standard of teacher."
A report of a parliamentary inquiry into boys' education, released in October 2002, urged the government to provide an equal number of teacher-training scholarships for men and women, based on merit.
Jenny Macklin, Labor's education spokeswoman, said that changing the law would not fix the problem. Ms Macklin said a Labor government would target men in a national campaign to attract young people to teaching.
"The evidence shows the real barriers to men becoming teachers and staying in our primary schools are pay, career structure and status compared with other professions," she said.
The Australian Primary Principals Association agreed that more needed to be done, but said there was a need for improved work conditions, salaries, and career structures to encourage men to take up the profession.