MP Kirstie Marshall has recently sparked controversy after breastfeeding her baby in a parliamentary chamber. Marshall was ejected from the Legislative Assembly for meeting her duties as a mother and as a parliamentary representative, when breastfeeding her 11-day-old daughter at work. Under the Equal Opportunity Act, Marshall should have been able to do this and supply her child with the best form of nutrition, however she was denied the right to meet her two obligations at once. Furthermore, the Bracks government has recently made innovative, more "family-friendly" changes to Parliament, so how could they try to make Marshall neglect her familie’s needs?
MP Marshall, along with other mothers, would be aware that breast milk is the best source of nutrients for a newborn baby. However, while she was doing her best to ensure baby Charlotte will be healthy, she was ordered to leave her workplace. 11-day-old Charlotte Marshall would be on a very demanding food schedule, needing food every couple of hours. This demand would need to be met by mother, Kirstie, while she works at some time.
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"I would like to be able to provide for my baby without compromising my role as parliamentarian" – Marshall, 27/2/03, The Age Baby formulas do not supply all the necessary nutrients to a baby that only breast milk can. Marshall, a first time mother, did what she thought was necessary: breastfeeding hungry Charlotte in her workplace, which just happens to be Parliament. When elected into Parliament her electorate knew she would be capable of having a new baby whilst representing them in the House of Representatives. Despite this, Marshall was not given the chance to successfully perform her obligations at the same time. She was gratuitously ordered to leave the chamber, which caused her to miss part of her job, simply, because she thought she was doing the right thing: being a mother and Parliamentarian at the same time.
How can Parliament supposedly be called more "family-friendly" when they remove an 11-day-old baby and her mother from the Legislative Assembly? Just a week before MP Marshall was ordered to leave the chamber because she was breastfeeding her baby, the Bracks government announced changes to make Parliament more "family-friendly". One change included stopping debate so that Parliamentarians could return to their families at home; but family members who require care obviously cannot go to Parliamentarians at work. Our "family-friendly" representatives label a harmless 11-day-old baby, who cannot hear or make sense of anything in the chamber, a "stranger". No one was at any risk by Charlotte’s presence in the chamber. For MP Marshall’s baby daughter to be called a "stranger" to the house is a cruel and unnecessary label. This really says a lot for the reform strategies of the Bracks government, when they make "family-friendly" changes, yet call a baby-at-breast a "stranger" that must be removed.
Under the Equal Opportunity Act a mother should be able to breastfeed her child in public and in the workplace. Kirstie Marshall was in her workplace when she was unfairly removed for breastfeeding her 11-day-old infant. The Act says a person cannot be discriminated against for breastfeeding in their place of employment, but Marshall was discriminated against in the place where this law was made. Parliament’s rules about their own workplace make it unacceptable for Marshall to perform, a socially acceptable act. MP Marshall, under the Equal Opportunity Act has every right to breastfeed her baby in the workplace, however Parliament rules conflict with this moral right. Marshall should have been allowed to breastfeed baby Charlotte in Parliament whilst performing her job as a parliamentary representative, but she was denied the chance. Marshall was removed unjustly from the Legislative Assemble for breastfeeding, and if she had been working elsewhere, she could have made a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission, but rules apparently change once inside Parliament House.
For over 100 years Parliament has had a standing order banning non-MP’s from the floor during business. These non-MPs are called "strangers to the house", just like baby Charlotte Marshall was. When this rule was created, women were not even allowed to vote, let alone sit as Parliamentarians. Over the century many things have changed, women can now vote, women can be members in Parliament, and now they can even be speakers in Parliament, a role that was previously only for men. Changes are meant to be made to meet and suit community views and values, however in Kirstie Marshall’s case, it has not happened. Marshall has brought about the fact that parliamentary women need to breastfeed at work. The standing order, from over 100 years ago, needs to be looked at and changed to suit the needs of parliamentarians, so maybe when Charlotte has a child, she will not be unfairly discriminated against like her mother.
MP Kirstie Marshall was ejected from the Legislative Assembly, and her workplace, for breastfeeding her baby. In defiance of the Equal Opportunity Act, Parliament has its own rules labelling 11-day-old Charlotte a "stranger", who along with her mother had to leave the chamber. Our so called more "family-friendly" Parliament has not lived up to its self-proclaimed name, by denying Marshall the chance to meet her mother and representative duties at the same time.
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