An Australian MP was given a rude introduction to arcane political conventions yesterday when she was ejected from the chamber of the Victorian state parliament while breastfeeding her baby.
Kirstie Marshall, a former Olympic skier, was tapped on the shoulder by the Sergeant at Arms as she fed her 11-day-old daughter, Charlotte, while waiting for the start of question time. The transgression was not the breastfeeding. It was the act of bringing a non-elected person into the debating chamber
She was told: "You can't have a stranger in the House, and she hasn't been elected to parliament."
A self-declared socialite, Ms Marshall confessed that she knew little about politics when she was elected to the state parliament last year. She was pregnant with Charlotte during the election campaign and said yesterday she was not seeking to make a statement by feeding her in public.
"I didn't come here to break the rules. Charlotte was due for a feed, so I whacked her on the breast and walked in and sat down. Then an official came and told me there was a room set aside for me to feed her," Ms Marshall said. The parliamentary standing orders that forced her to make a premature exit were widely condemned.
Pru Goward, the commissioner for sex discrimination, said parliament should be treated as any other workplace. "They are very unpredictable creatures, 11-day-old babies, and if they need to be fed, they need to be fed," she said. "I'd have thought that was part of having a flexible and tolerant workplace."
The state government said it would review the standing orders. Meanwhile, the issue provoked heated debate on local radio. One caller to a show said: "I think we should have the views of those people in parliament, whether they're lactating, breastfeeding or not."
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