More on babies in Parliament

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta wants better provisions for breastfeeding mothers after she was forced to stay in Parliament with her young daughter until midnight on Friday.

The Business Committee, which oversees the running of Parliament, is set to consider the situation at its next meeting.

Parliament sat under urgency until midnight Friday and late on Saturday as the Government rushed through a raft of Budget-related legislation.

Mahuta was given leave on Thursday night and most of the day on Friday, but she was required to be in Parliament from 9pm until midnight on Friday.

Labour whip Chris Hipkins said Mahuta didn’t have to be in the debating chamber, just the parliamentary buildings.

That is a key revelation. Mahuta could have remained in her office with her baby. There was no requirement at all for her to be in the chamber. So the question has to be asked, did she go down in the chamber with her baby just as a publicity stunt to protest having to be in Parliament at all at that time?

I’m all for MPs being able to take babies into the House, but it is important to note that MPs are not required to be in the House for votes. They merely have to be in the parliamentary precinct.

But Mahuta said it was “silly” she had to take her five-month-old daughter Niua-Cybele to work that late just to make up numbers.

She had raised the matter with Speaker David Carter and Hipkins and expected something to be done.

“I was concerned that provisions weren’t made for nursing mums during urgency in terms of leave numbers … no child should be in the workplace from nine till midnight,” she said.

I understand (my source may be wrong) that Mahuta in fact offered to do the Friday shift. That she was originally rostered on for Thursday, and wanted to swap. So again I am not sure that Mahuta was forced to be there on Friday night.

Now don’t get me wrong. being a working mum is damn hard, and a working MP mum harder than most. I would expect that party whips would do everything possible to give one of their 25% proxies to an MP who is caring for an infant for late night sessions. But we do not know the full details of why Mahuta was rostered on for Friday night. As I said, I understand she was originally rostered on for Thursday, and did a swap.

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key does not believe Parliament’s hours should be reduced to make it more “family friendly”, saying having children while in Parliament was “challenging but do-able” and it was up to each party to ensure nursing mothers had the support and time out needed.

Unless there was a huge explosion in the number of MPs with infants, the 25% proxy allocation to each party should be more than adequate to allow parents with infants to have flexibility with their hours.

Speaker David Carter is considering introducing special leave provisions for nursing mothers after Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta was in Parliament with her baby until midnight on Friday because of urgency. She told the Speaker it was unfair to expect nursing mothers to be in Parliament late into the night.

Mr Key said it was up to the Speaker to decide on any new rules, but it was possible for parties to arrange leave to give priority to those who most needed it, such as nursing mothers. Parties can have one quarter of their MPs away at any time without losing votes in Parliament.

He said it was up to the Speaker to decide whether to formally allow women to take babies into the House.

It isn’t just up to the Speaker. He can not unilaterally change standing orders. The standing orders committee would need to recommend a change to standing orders to change the proxy rules, and the House would need to agree to it – probably by way of a sessional order.

In terms of whether infants are allowed in the House, the rules seem unclear. I can’t find a Speaker’s Ruling on this issue. The preferred approach would be to amend standing orders to make it clear this is allowed, but in the absence of an explicit change I think the Speaker can show some common sense discretion. However let’s be very clear – ultimately the rules of Parliament are not decided by the Speaker, but by the House. He is the House’s servant, not its master.

Labour whip Chris Hipkins said Ms Mahuta had been given significant amounts of leave but there was extra pressure on leave during urgency. Ms Mahuta had agreed to work on Friday night after she was given leave for Thursday.

Oh I should have read this article first. This backs up the point I was making above. Mahuta chose to work Friday night instead of Thursday.

He had taken her off the speaking roster after she told him she had to bring the baby to Parliament.

So again, her decision to go down to the House with her baby was a voluntary one – presumably to gain publicity.

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