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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3912

Senator PARRY (5:50 PM) —I wish first to echo the remarks of Senator Chris Evans. The opposition would not have supported a motion of dissent from the President’s ruling. The President has a clear role, and that is to uphold standing orders. Whether standing orders need to be adjusted is a matter for a separate debate, but we certainly would not have supported a dissent motion over the President’s ruling.

I am sure the coalition senators who witnessed the event in the chamber wished that it had never happened. But this whole issue begs more questions than there are answers. I support Senator Bob Brown’s motion to have this matter referred to the Procedure Committee, where it can be debated very clearly and without time constraints. We can discuss the matters concerned and see whether a review of standing orders is required. It is difficult to understand how a review might be framed, apart from the review already provided in the standing orders for breastfeeding mothers, which I think is a very sensible and modern approach to the parliamentary process.

Questions that come to my mind and to colleagues’ minds—and, over the weekend, some of the issues that were reported to me when I was at different functions—include things like: what if it were a court of law? Do you bring children into a court chamber, which is likened to the Senate chamber? What if every senator brought a child of that age in at the same time? I am not posing answers; I am just posing questions. Some of these matters do need to be considered. From a practical perspective, for a whip, counting does become more difficult with more numbers in the chamber—sometimes senators can be obscured or diversions are created.

As chief whip on this side, I can say that we would always grant a pair—and I think Senator Evans mentioned that the Chief Government Whip would agree—especially for family reasons and especially if Senator Hanson-Young or any other senator found themselves in a situation where they needed to spend more time with their child. And I think it was for a very legitimate reason. We would have granted a pair if the vote had been a closer vote. Could I indicate also that the vote of the chamber would not have been altered if Senator Hanson-Young had not been present. I know that Senator Brown or the Greens whip, Senator Siewert, could have easily indicated that Senator Hanson-Young would have voted with her colleagues but was unavoidably detained outside the chamber with her infant. I am sure that is very acceptable. We would certainly have considered that and allowed that to take place.

I am a bit concerned that some state parliamentarian over the weekend was reported indicating that this parliament does not allow women who are breastfeeding to bring infants into the chamber. I think that is probably a misinformed member of another parliament, because we certainly can do that. The standing orders do provide for that.

I think it is very sensible that Senator Brown has advocated that this matter go to the Procedure Committee. I look forward to the discussions at the Procedure Committee and to getting feedback from senators around the chamber. If a review of that particular standing order is required, I think that is the place that that review should take place. I know that the input would be welcomed by all senators. The Greens are represented on the Procedure Committee, where that can take place. So, with those words, the coalition is appreciative of Senator Brown changing his motion in relation to this and not dissenting from the President’s ruling, which we believe was correct, but also raising the matter that, if we need to review procedures, we can do so with the right committee, taking into account the full range of issues that could present complications if children are permitted into the chamber—not ruling that out but certainly looking at every possible outcome if it were opened up for others. We appreciate Senator Hanson-Young’s position in this, but the standing orders have been quite clear for some time, and the standing orders at this point in time were upheld correctly by the President.