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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 14786


Ms KING (Ballarat) (10:31): I am delighted to speak on the Standing Committee of Procedure report Provisions for a more family-friendly chamber. I felt it was important that this report not go unremarked in this chamber, because it is a very important part of ensuring that we send a very clear signal from this parliament that we want to make sure that breastfeeding is available in every place in Australia and that it is not banned anywhere in Australia, including in our own House of Representatives and here in the Federation Chamber.

This report came about because over the course of many years we have seen a number of women and men who have young children in this place, and we have subsequently started to improve our procedures and our standing orders as a result. I am delighted to say that the report in particular has a couple of really important implications for women generally but also for families here in this place to enable them to continue to be able both to do their work as parliamentarians and also to continue to breastfeed or care for very young infants in the place. The first is that it lifts the notion that you cannot bring infants or small children into the chambers, whether it be for breastfeeding purposes or for caring for them. It also reiterates the commitment that was made back in 2008 for this place to ensure that Parliament House should be accredited as a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. We achieved that accreditation in 2008. I know the Speaker and both the Government Whip and the Opposition Whip were incredibly instrumental in making sure that happened. Whilst the accreditation is a yearly thing, I think it is something that does need some attention because some of the procedures in place, the requirements for separate rooms and the attention that is needed to some of those, have slipped off the agenda a little.

Much of the media attention on this report and in its lead-up was about the recommendation that breastfeeding be allowed on the floor of the parliament. If women choose to do that, that is fully supported by the recommendations of the report. I think it is important to make it clear that, as the report also says, it should be a matter of choice for women. What was removed from women was, in essence, that breastfeeding was banned from two rooms in this entire building. The principle should be that breastfeeding is not banned anywhere. Where women choose to breastfeed is entirely a matter for them, but it should not be banned. In essence, the procedures have done that.

The report notes that a number of members said that it would be their preference to use the proxy vote. Again, that is something that has been a very important part of the change in procedures for this place. It came about in 2008, when the government whip and the opposition whip recognised my own personal circumstances. It was an incredibly important part of my being able to not only continue my commitment to breastfeeding my young son but also continue to exercise my vote in this place. As the report says:

The proxy vote offers greater flexibility compared to provisions in other legislatures that require nursing mothers to either breastfeed in the Chamber or leave their baby in order to vote. It has been put to the Committee, however, that if the Parliament is to fully support breastfeeding, it should not be prohibited in any part of the building, including the Chamber and Federation Chamber.

That is an important principle for all places in this country. It is important that choice continue to be made available and that we not attempt to inflict a single solution on nursing mothers. The report also notes that the proxy vote is currently only available to women in the House. I strongly urge that this option be also made available in the Senate.

Of course, making parliament friendlier for women is not just confined to breastfeeding. Like parents everywhere, we have all had to juggle those sudden work commitments that make child care unavailable or difficult. We are incredibly fortunate in this place to have the use of a childcare centre—indeed, I was the first MP to use that parliament centre regularly—but it is still far from ideal, given that parliament on some days sits from nine in the morning until quite late at night. As the report notes, from my own submission, on occasion I did need to bring my very young son into the chamber during late-night sittings when other suitable care was not available. The flexibility shown to me by the then Speaker and both the government and the opposition whips allowed me to travel to Canberra with my son until after his third birthday. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that that allowed me as a new parent not to miss out on those early years of my child. The bond between my little boy and me has been absolutely strengthened because of the accommodations that were made at that time. Being an MP does require lots of travel and lots of time away from home, so trying to keep your baby with you so that you can breastfeed is certainly difficult enough.

This report stands on the shoulders of many. Often when you have your own children you see everything through the prism of what is happening to you, but there are women who have come before every one of us. Ros Kelly was, I think, the first MP to be pregnant and give birth. We then had Jackie Kelly, who was the first federal minister. We have since had many women, such as Anna Burke, and Jacinta Collins in the other place. It has become something that it should not be surprising we are trying to juggle. This report will, I think, be very welcome. The change in procedures will be very welcome. It is regrettable that it has taken until 2015 for us to actually do it, but I am glad we have. Hopefully the publicity around the instigation of the report will send a strong message to women on all sides considering a political career that they do not have to choose between being a parent and being an MP.

We want all workplaces across this country to be breastfeeding friendly. I strongly encourage all of them to become accredited by the Australian Breastfeeding Association as breastfeeding-friendly workplaces. Our workplace is no different and should continue with that accreditation. All mums must have the best possible support to breastfeed their baby in that first year, and that includes support from their workplaces. I am very pleased that this, which in essence is our workplace, has recognised that by ensuring that there is no ban—no prohibition—on where women can breastfeed their children and that, if there are circumstances in which you need to have your children accompany you because it is very late at night and you do not have any care, this place is available for it. Again, I encourage making sure that the breastfeeding accreditation remains up to date. One of the issues in this place is that no one department has taken ownership of the breastfeeding rooms in the building; also the family space down the end of my corridor had been neglected for quite a long period of time because no one department took ownership of it. I encourage that to be the case.

I want to again commend the member for Boothby, who chaired this committee, and other members of the committee. It has been a very short, sharp inquiry, but it is an important one that sends a very important signal from this place that breastfeeding-friendly workplaces are important. It is an important signal for this parliament to send to women and parents, to show that we want them to be able to balance their careers and their families. These procedures and the changes that are made in this report certainly go a long way to doing that here in our workplace.