Malcolm Turnbull is standing by the coalition government’s commitment to hold a national plebiscite on legalising same-sex marriage after the next election.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek asked whether the prime minister will allow a free vote on same sex marriage, saying Liberal MP Warren Entsch’s bill currently before the parliament could go to a vote as early as tomorrow.

Mr Turnbull responded by confirming the government’s policy still stands and the matter will be resolved via a plebiscite following the next election.

‘There is no greater virtue in a free vote here or a plebiscite. They are each means of resolving the matter – one, I grant you is more expensive but, nonetheless, it is a very legitimate and democratic way of dealing with it,’ he said.

All Australians will have a choice about how the issue is resolved at the next election, likely in 2016, he said.

‘Labor will say vote for us and marriage equality will be dealt with by the politicians … we will say, if we are re-elected to government, every single Australian will have a say,’ Mr Turnbull

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard said earlier on Tuesday he did not expect the party’s position to change on same-sex marriage before the next election, despite the change in leader.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Tuesdayn after Malcolm Turnbull’s swearing in as prime minister, Mr Howard said Mr Turnbull will ’embrace’ the same view held by his predecessor Mr Abbott on the issue.

‘There is a position that the party has adopted on gay marriage and Mr Turnbull has said that he adheres to that position’, he said.

‘For the lifetime of this parliament, for it to be government policy to support the status quo, in other words no change and after that there will almost certainly be a plebiscite’.

‘That’s the position that was embraced under Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull has said that he had the same view,’ Mr Howard said.