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Maternity leave, breastfeeding now approved by 'modern' SA Parliament

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SA Parliament’s Lower House has voted to change its standing orders to allow MPs to take up to 20 weeks of maternity leave and to breast or bottle feed their babies in the chamber, to bring the 160-year-old institution up to speed with “modern workplace expectations”.

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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.

The House of Assembly on Tuesday voted to adopt the recommendations, which include allowing pregnant MPs to take up to 20 weeks of maternity leave in line with the entitlements already offered to South Australian public servants.

While on maternity leave, MPs are still able to attend Parliament to participate in debate or vote.

MPs are now also allowed to bring their babies into the chamber and breast or bottle feed them.

Previously, MPs had to seek permission from the chamber if they planned to be absent for longer than 12 sitting days and the President had the discretion to refuse or allow a MP to bring their child into the chamber.

The changes were first recommended 18 months ago by a joint parliamentary committee set up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Allowing MPs to breast or bottle feed their babies in the chamber was also a recommendation of the Equal Opportunity Commission’s recent damning review of harassment within state parliament.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who moved the motion calling on the Lower House to adopt the recommendations, said the changes were a long time coming and would make Parliament a more family-friendly workplace.

“A desire to have a family should not impeded women, or men, from entering politics,” she said.

“It’s well and truly time these rules changed, bringing our Parliament in line with modern workplace expectations.

“I am pleased to see these changes endorsed by the House and hope to see them mirrored in the Legislative Council.”

Labor MP Chris Picton, who was on the Standing Orders Committee that made the recommendations, told Parliament on Tuesday that the changes were “very topical” and addressed an issue that “we should be doing everything we possible can on”.

“It has taken 18 months for us to get to these very sensible but minimal changes to our standing orders being brought to the parliament,” he said.

“This is just one of a huge number of steps that need to take place to improve our standing orders and also how the parliament works.”

It comes after InDaily reported last 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 has not changed the Legislative Council’s standing orders, with a separate vote required to change the rules in that House.

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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