It’s become a ritual for retiring politicians to thank their families for the extraordinary sacrifices made to enable a stellar political career.

But why does it have to be that way?

Once again in the Senate last night we had a demonstration of the systemic anti-family attitudes embedded in our current parliamentary processes.

I’m lucky — all my children are adults. In my short time in the Senate, both Senators Hanson-Young and Stott-Despoja have occasionally brought their infant children into the Senate for a vote.

This is against Standing Orders but up until last night had been tolerated — in fact, the novelty of a young child in the Senate has been enjoyed by many MPs. It’s a welcome reminder of the disconnect between our usual parliamentary work environment and the people we are there to represent.

In my maiden speech to the Senate I criticised the anti-family aspects of politics as a career especially for women with young families.

It’s bizarre that, as legislators, we can debate the need for more flexible family-friendly workplace practices in the “real” world but not believe that those winds of change should also apply to us.

All parents would have experienced the childcare “glitch” where arrangements simply fall apart and there’s no option but to drop everything you’re doing and give priority to your child.

Obviously we don’t want the Senate to turn into “playgroup” but, if Senators need to occasionally bring their young child into the Senate, this should be acceptable.

In family-friendly terms, the situation only gets worse for aspiring politicians who are single parents when their children start school — should they attend school in the electorate or in Canberra?

In my view, the Senate has a fairly simple decision to make next week — do we want mothers of young children (and hopefully fathers with child care responsibilities) to be MPs or not?

But finding a workable solution will be more complex. Hopefully it leads into a broader debate of the topic.

Do children have a place in our Parliamentary chambers? Have you say here.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now