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SA Parliament to finally consider MP maternity leave

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For the first time in its 160-year history, SA Parliament’s Lower House will consider allowing MPs to take up to 20 weeks of maternity leave to “send a strong message” to women that they should consider a career in politics.

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It follows the release of a House of Assembly Standing Orders Committee report, which recommended a series of rule changes aimed at removing barriers faced by pregnant MPs.

Among the proposed changes, the committee has recommended that MPs be entitled to up to 20 weeks of maternity leave to match what is currently offered to South Australian public servants.

The Government’s leader in the House of Assembly, Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, will move a motion tomorrow for MPs to note the report.

If passed, MPs on maternity leave would still be allowed to come to Parliament House to vote or participate in debate, but the House of Assembly would not be required to vote to grant them permission to take the leave.

Currently, MPs must seek permission from the House of Assembly if they plan to be absent for longer than 12 sitting days.

In his report, Speaker and Standing Orders Committee chairman Josh Teague wrote that introducing maternity leave “sends a strong message to women that the standing orders are not impeding women from entering into political life”.

He wrote that maternity leave should first be introduced temporarily as a sessional order and, if “successful”, it could then be incorporated fully into the standing orders.

The House of Assembly’s Standing Orders Committee has also proposed implementing a recommendation of a damning Equal Opportunity Commission review, handed down earlier this month, which called on both Houses of Parliament to allow MPs to breast and bottle feed babies in the chambers “as a matter of priority”.

Currently, MPs are only allowed to bring their babies into the chamber if the House of Assembly suspends standing orders or if they are granted permission from the Speaker.

Teague wrote that the House of Assembly should adopt the Equal Opportunity Commission’s recommendation to make the House “an exemplar”.

“The Parliament should better align itself with contemporary social values by adopting modern workplace values and practices that encourage parents and in particular women to enter politics by offering the opportunity to participate fully in the work of the House while caring for an infant,” he wrote.

“Any member – male or female – who is responsible for providing care to an infant, which includes feeding and breastfeeding, should be allowed to bring that infant into the House.”

Teague recommended adopting the recommendation as a temporary sessional order, before it is fully adopted in the standing orders.

It comes after InDaily reported earlier this month that SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros had been waiting for 18 months for the Legislative Council’s Standing Orders Committee to respond to her request to allow MLCs to breast and bottle feed babies in the chamber.

The House of Assembly’s decision would not change the Legislative Council’s standing orders, with a separate vote required to change the rules in that House.

Introducing maternity leave and allowing babies to be brought into the chambers were also recommendations made in a 2019 report of the Joint Committee of the 125th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.

Former MP and Rann Government minister Karlene Maywald became the first SA politician to give birth to a child while in office when her daughter Tilly Rose was born in 1998. 

She told InDaily that the House of Assembly “catered for the arrival of Tilly Rose very, very well”.

“The staff were fabulous, the Speaker of the House was great and we didn’t seek to change the standing orders at the time,” she said.

“In my view, the chamber is not the right place to be breastfeeding a baby anyway – it would be a bit like breastfeeding your baby while doing live radio, you wouldn’t do it.”

The former Member for Chaffey said she returned to work as a MP three weeks after giving birth.

“I was never offered maternity leave,” she said.

“My husband retired from his work and became the primary carer and he travelled with me to Adelaide whilst I was feeding Tilly and they spent time in Parliament House with me or at accommodation we had in Adelaide.

“We didn’t seek to change the standing orders at the time because we managed work-arounds, but I respect the chamber is considering new ways and if that suits new mums then good luck to them.”

Labor Minister Katrine Hildyard said the Opposition supported the proposed changes to the standing orders, but it was “frustrated” at the time it had taken to address the issues.

“I wrote to the former Speaker the Hon Vincent Tarzia about these issues in December 2019,” she said.

“The Standing Orders Committee received the report from the Joint Committee on the 125th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in October 2019.

“A number of Standing Orders Committee meetings were postponed.

“If we are serious about enabling women to equally and actively participate in parliament and politics, change that supports that participation should be urgently progressed.”

InDaily contacted Teague and van Holst Pellekaan for comment.

In 2017, Greens Senator Larissa Waters became the first politician to breastfeed in Federal Parliament.

It followed a backlash in 2015 when Government Minister Kelly O’Dwyer was asked to consider expressing milk to avoid missing parliamentary duties.

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