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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Strangers should be seen and not heard.

Bob Brown's making better headlines in the last couple of days having sprung to the defence of a female Senator and fellow green:
THE Greens have challenged federal parliament to become more child-friendly after the two-year-old daughter of one of their senators was ejected from the chamber yesterday.

Greens leader Bob Brown said he would pursue a motion of dissent over Senate President John Hogg's decision to remove Sarah Hanson-Young's child, Kora, during a vote.

Kora burst into tears when she was taken from her mother, a South Australian senator, by a staffer and could still be heard crying outside after the chamber doors were locked.

"We can't allow children to be in here for a division," the Labor senator said.

He could not be reached for comment immediately after the incident, while Senator Hanson-Young declined to comment.

Senator Brown said the rules classifying an infant with her mother as a "stranger" in the house belonged to the horse-and-buggy era.
Oh, where to start? First off, if she was a bus driver Sarah Hanson-Young would not normally be able to have her daughter with her. Ditto if she was about a million and one things. Would you expect female surgeons to have their kids in the operating theatre while they rummage in patients? Or airline pilots having a kiddie seat where the other pilot's supposed to be? Or virtually any job you can think of for that matter. Most jobs don't have any practical way to have your kids around unless your job actually involves working with children. Most people have to get around not having their kids around. If that's a deal breaker then don't we go for the fucking job, and that should includes those wanting to be an MP or Senator. Apparently non-political mums understand this perfectly well.

Second, if Kora Hanson-Young is not a "stranger" then exactly what is she? I'm assuming that the idea and term came, like much else, from the Westminster system. That would mean a stranger is simply anyone who is neither a member of that chamber nor a Parliamentary official. I can't see why progeny should be added.

Third, what about the fellas? If, as we're told, equality legislation [headslap] insists on women being allowed to bring the ankle biters not just into Parliament House but into the debating chambers themselves then sorry ladies, but it cuts both ways. What's good for the goose is good for the gander - it must go both ways or not at all. And if it's to be the latter where do you draw the line? When everyone attending a debate has brought a child or two along and the kids outnumber the politicians? No, sorry, that's clearly not acceptable. Yet if we say the line shouldn't be that high then where? It becomes arbitrary, which in turn means it's not fair on the first one to turn up with the kids in tow to be told that the Parliamentary sprog limit has already been reached. As said previously, if it's a deal breaker for anyone thinking of standing for Parliament then they shouldn't go for the fucking job either. It's just the same if you live in Perth and can't hack the traveling to Canberra all the time - you just. Don't. Do. It. Look, I've been there and the place is fucking huge. You want to have kids in there then find a nice big room, clear out a few desks and make a decent crèche. I know about this and frankly you can do better than 22 places when you have 150 members of the House of Reps, 76 Senators. Of course, there are a couple of thousand or so other people who work there and they must be treated equally, right? Or do those elected to Parliament get some sort of preferential treatment? Not going to fly any better with regular people than the preferential treatment of having your kids in there if you ask me.

Fourth, and kind of following on from that, if you really, really want a child friendly Parliament that attracts women (and men) who are also parents who need to look after children then you'll need to make some fucking drastic changes. For one thing late sittings are not at all child friendly, and yet wouldn't it be irresponsible of a Parliamentarian to duck the responsibility of representing their electorate for personal reasons? Perhaps not all late sessions are important but there only has to be one and suddenly the choice is between your child and many thousands of people who expect you to represent them adequately. Tough choice and not a fair situation to put people in, so late sessions have got to go. But then the kids get older and we start running into the same situation at the beginning and end of the school day, so to be fair to MPs and Senators who have younger school age children the school run hours are probably out too. Then for older kids there may be after school activities that they may need collecting from, which would bugger up the early part of the evening. Weekend sittings then? That'd be drastic, but fair? Not for those whose children are sporty and want the support of Mum/Dad for netball or footy. No individual will have their whole weekend accounted for but you can virtually guarantee that across those 226 people there'd be several who couldn't make any given time slot.

So am I saying it can't be done? No, not at all. It certainly can be done but the change needed is far more drastic - a move to a very strong libertarian Parliament. Devolve far more power to the states (and possibly encourage the NT to become one) and make Canberra a meeting place not of professional politicians but of dedicated citizen legislators. With devolution of many Commonwealth powers and responsibilities to the state governments there'd be less to do in Canberra, and Parliamentarians might need to meet only one or two days a week. Eventually it might be possible to condense it down to a few days a month. This would not only be easier on parents of either underwear but would probably be far less of a big deal for them to bring their kids into the chamber - most of the important decisions won't be taken in there anyway but in the state capitals. Better yet, not only would it attract parents who want to be able to stay close to their children and serve their country, the loss of power and prestige that goes with it would be a disincentive to the sort of pricks common to national governments the world over for whom the power and prestige is the big draw.

Yes, I have been re-reading The Plan and shamelessly stolen from it. But if it happened then there'd rarely be a need to send Senator Hanson-Young's daughter out of the room, and indeed all Parliamentarians would be better able to plan their effectively part time political jobs with their needs as parents. Wouldn't that be an improvement?
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