Perhaps it does not suit Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and her ill informed little band of supporters in defending her defiance of Senate Standing Orders however the public has spoken on the matter in most emphatic terms. Every poll has recorded that the vast majority of voters entirely oppose her misbehaviour in taking a child into the Senate Chamber during proceedings.

That Hanson-Young and others, not the least Bernard Keane who wrote “it was a division, not a debate” have sought to trivialise Senate divisions only gives clarity to the appalling lack of understanding of Senate proceedings. Divisions dictate the fate of “debate”.

Claims that federal politics is “one of the least family-friendly occupations in the country” are simply absurd nonsense.

Senator Hanson-Young receives a generous $160,000 annual salary package, vastly more than she earned in her former occupation as a bank clerk, which provides more than adequate financial opportunity for her to employ a baby sitter. Courtesy of the tax-payers, Parliament House provides an “on the job” crèche and child care centre.

The children of parliamentarians are provided with free air fares between their home base and Canberra. Hanson-Young’s husband is also provided with free airfares from Adelaide to Canberra should he wish at any time to contribute to the child’s care in Canberra. Travel between home, the airport and Parliament House for these excursions occurs in the comfort of a chauffeur-driven car.

Should Senator Hanson-Young wish to have her staff travel with the child in her absence, her staff are also provided with free airfares.

Other than during Chamber time which makes up but a minor part of their day, Senators and Members have direct and immediate access to their children during working hours, unheard of in any other employment.

The children of members of parliament have “the run” of the parliament save for one place — the floors of the chambers. In the case of the Senate, Hanson-Young’s child, accompanied by a carer, is able to sit in the gallery of the Senate just metres away from Hanson-Young during all proceedings.

Senator Hanson-Young claims that she was out walking with her child as the child was to return to Adelaide in ten minutes and that the division had been called unexpectedly and “I didn’t have time to drop her back at the office with the baby sitter”.

The Bill the subject of the division was the second reading of the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising Bill 2006 [2008].

This Bill was introduced into the Senate by Hanson-Young’s own Party. Hanson-Young claims that she was caught unaware that the division was likely to be called. In a News Ltd article, Senator Hanson-Young wrote that “Votes are short. There is no debate and they can happen at any time without notice. So there has to be some flexibility”. To put not too fine point on her claim, in this case it is simply not true.

Having carriage of the Bill on behalf of the Greens, Senator Brown had the right of reply and was therefore entitled to speak last. He spoke for 22 minutes and at the conclusion of his speech he called for the division.

The division was of the Greens’ making. Hanson-Young would have known that her Party was going to call for a division and she would also have known that the division was to take place upon the conclusion of Brown’s speech.

Given, as she would know that Standing Orders limit the period for speeches on the a second reading of a Bill to 30 minutes, she had 30 minutes’ notice of the calling of the division. Equally, knowing that Senator Brown would take all or most of his allotted time, which he did, Hanson-Young would have known almost to the minute when the division was to be called. In any event, she could have asked Brown’s office how long he intended to speak.

In defence of her cry for cheap publicity and entirely misplaced sympathy, Senator Hanson-Young has been less than frank with the public. In her article she wrote that “It’s just that this time the President of the Senate, John Hogg, chose to enforce the rules without warning”. That is not so.

Prior to the cessation of the ringing of the bells and the closing of the doors, as anybody watching the proceedings of the Senate at that time would know, the Duty Clerk of the Senate left his place to walk across to Senator Hanson-Young to inform her that she was in contravention of the Standing Orders and requested that she remove her child from the floor of the Chamber.

Apparently believing her mindless stunt would attract the type of publicity the Greens crave, Senator Hanson-Young flouted the Standing Order, refused the Clerk’s request and allowed the doors to be closed for the division with her child still on the floor of the Chamber.

The division began at 4.45pm and by 4.48pm Senator Brown was on his feet dissenting from the President’s ruling. Senator Hanson-Young had been denied the company of her child for less than three minutes.

Senator Hanson-Young also said “It was awful this week for my daughter to be taken away from me while she was crying”. This emotive claim is of course nothing more than that. The child cried after Senator Hanson-Young hurriedly handed over the child to one of her staff and the child witnessed her mother disappearing behind a closed door; all of Senator Hanson-Young’s deliberate doing.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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