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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2168

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (20:22): Following Mothers Day, I want to speak this evening about the privilege I had recently to be in a roomful of true 'supermums' while presenting the Victorian Mother of the Year award, hosted by Barnardos. Being a Victorian senator is indeed a privilege and a role that I relish, but being a mum is an even greater privilege and a role I delight in.

I was interested to read in the papers recently about Gail Kelly, the Westpac boss, speaking about how she used to cope when she had four children under the age of three—triplets amongst them. One of Australia's most successful businesswomen, Mrs Kelly revealed that she briefly checked one of her babies into the paediatric ward of a local hospital so that she could get some sleep. Mrs Kelly admitted to once getting caught up in a business call on her car phone and totally forgetting that she was supposed to be taking her young son to school. She pulled into her work car space only to hear a little voice in the backseat saying, 'Mum, have you forgotten about me?' Another time, neighbours complained about the noise from her little girl, because the girl's screaming was interfering with their plans to have some drinks in their garden. Noting that the noise had actually stopped, Mrs Kelly told them, 'Don't worry, I just killed her.' As we all know, it pays to have a sense of humour as a mum.

It is a great privilege to celebrate the fact that mothering bonds many of us. We may not earn Mrs Kelly's salary and we may not have smashed the glass ceiling in the way that she has, but what we have in common is more powerful than any of that: our kids, our shared experiences as mothers, and doing the best we can, day in and day out. Whilst Mrs Kelly said she was uncomfortable with the term 'supermum', I am not—particularly when I had the pleasure of being among so many of them at the Barnardos function—and it is these mothers that I think we can and should celebrate. This is the 16th year of Barnardos hosting the Mother of the Year awards, and I am thrilled that they celebrated the achievements of mothers and their contributions to our community. As we all know, there is no way we could put a figure on everything that mothers do. What is important is that we continue to highlight how vital mothers are at every stage of life and that we continue to promote and support motherhood.

I would like to say a few words about a debate—some call it a 'war'—that I had hoped had been settled long ago; but, unfortunately, it is still alive and well today. That is the 'battle' between the stay-at-home mum and the working mum. I noticed recently an article in the Herald Sun with two pictures: one of a stay-at-home mum, surrounded by her kids, and the other of a working mum at her desk. The story revealed that a new survey had found that mums feel stigmatised—whatever they do! Worst of all, other mums are the biggest offenders for making them feel bad about their choices. Almost 60 per cent of working Mums were made to feel that they were not taking parenting seriously enough, while 40 per cent of stay-at-home mums experienced negativity about their decision not to be in the paid workforce.

Recently, radio presenter Jackie O said that debate about her returning to work two months after giving birth made her feel like a second-rate mum. One Melbourne mum set up a parent-support website after other mums called her 'evil' for putting her three-month-old son into child care so that she could return to university study.

What is going on here? Why have mothers declared war on each other? Since when did we rate mums as first class, second class and so on? Why did we go tribal, forming into camps, defending our territory and throwing spears at others who have made decisions different to our own? At the risk of using a cliché, surely we should focus on the things that unite us rather than those that divide us. In fact, many mothers do different things at different stages of their family processes. As I said earlier, our common bond is our kids, and what a powerful bond that is. We need each other's help and support more than ever. Surely we can rise above this divisiveness, because it really is sowing guilt and creating real harm where we should be offering encouragement and support.

I was not particularly interested in whether the three Barnardos finalists in Victoria—Sharon Bailey, Dianne Brown and Shirley Iaconis—were stay-at-home mums or working mums because, really, that does not matter. Having said that, I do believe it is crucial that babies have the opportunity to bond with their parents, particularly their mothers, in those vital first months and years. That is why I am so pleased and proud to be part of this government that has established Australia's first paid parental leave scheme to support that. What matters most of all for our children is their safety, their care and their happiness. What also really matters is whether our mums have received the love and support they have needed along the way, and still need, because the job of mothering never ends.

It is my sincere hope that mums can stop beating up on each other—stop the snide remarks and judgments—and unite under the banner of motherhood, declaring loudly and proudly that we are mothers first. I also hope that we can create a culture where we celebrate and genuinely support all mothers, not just those who fit our personal definitions. That also means reaching out to other groups of more marginalised mums—like teenage mothers, who are often unfairly judged and treated, like single mothers and any mum you know who is struggling, for whatever reason. Haven't we all struggled at times?

I read with interest the profiles of the three Barnardos Victorian finalists, and one thing they all share is their positive outlook and their selfless, gutsy attitudes as well as their genuine desire to help others and to put others' needs before their own. I really was inspired by their stories. The world is a much better place for having Sharon Bailey, Dianne Brown and Shirley Iaconis in it, and I salute them for their courage and com­mitment as mothers and carers of a broader family network. I also congratulate Barnardos Australia's 2011 Mother of the Year—Rebecca Healy, from the Northern Territory. At just 25, the mother of two has really turned her life around. After leaving home at 12, Rebecca lived in refuges for seven years and was taken in by friends. At 19, she decided to clean up her act—which included buying her first home and losing 50 kilos. As well as being a single mum to her two boys aged four and three, Rebecca also cares for her 16-year-old sister full time and is an emergency foster parent. She works as an Indigenous economic development officer and is a passionate advocate for local youth. What an inspiration for young woman and mothers. I read recently that children are happiest when their mothers are happy. But, according to the research, when their mothers were unhappy, only 55 per cent of youngsters were satisfied with their home life. Interestingly, the study found that a father's happiness makes no real difference to his offspring. What this tells me—as if we needed research to prove it—is that kids need happy mothers. As Rebecca Healy puts it, 'a happy healthy mum equals happy healthy children.' While on some days as mums we don't feel particularly happy, I know that most of the time mothers make tremendous efforts to be happy for our kids. Everything a mother does is for her kids: to ensure that they are happy and healthy and to ensure that their family life is strong and stable. I was delighted to present the Victorian Mother of the Year Award and to speak about a subject I am passionate about—that is, that we should do more to promote motherhood.