Last year, a few months after Australian lawmaker Kelly O’Dwyer gave birth to her daughter Olivia, chief government whip Scott Buchholz offered her some advice: She should consider expressing her breastmilk to avoid missing duties at work.
O’Dwyer had returned to the legislature after only a short maternity leave, but was still breastfeeding. Apparently Buchholz thought that meant she was falling short on her responsibilities.
That’s because at the time, children were treated like other visitors to the House of Representatives. Breastfeeding lawmakers were allowed to vote in absentia via proxy if they had take care of their children instead of casting a ballot on the legislature’s floor.
That changed Tuesday when the same parliament that used to ban children voted to allow lawmakers — both men and women — to bring their kids into the chamber. Women will also be allowed to breastfeed during votes and debates.
“No member, male or female, will ever be prevented from participating fully in the operation of the parliament by reason of having the care of a baby,” House Leader Christopher Pyne said Tuesday.
There are 150 members of the Australian House of Representatives, 40 of whom are women. Three have had babies since March, in what Liberal lawmaker Andrew Southcott called a “baby boom” when he argued for the rule change this fall.
“As the numbers of breastfeeding members in the House have increased, the need for adequate provisions to support these women has become apparent,” he said in November.
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