Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Call to relax rules for MPs with babies

Nanaia Mahuta had to remain at Parliament until midnight with her baby girl, Nuia-Cybele because her vote was needed. Photo / Christine Cornege
Nanaia Mahuta had to remain at Parliament until midnight with her baby girl, Nuia-Cybele because her vote was needed. Photo / Christine Cornege

Parliament's Speaker is considering a rule change for MPs with babies after Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta was required to be in Parliament with her five-month-old baby until midnight last week because Labour needed her there so it could cast its full tally of votes during urgency.

Parties need at least 75 per cent of their MPs in Parliament to cast all of their votes, and Ms Mahuta's usual care arrangements did not extend to Friday so she took her baby daughter with her, including going to the Debating Chamber at one point, but left when the baby started crying.

She has asked the Speaker to consider new rules for nursing mothers, saying they should not have to be at Parliament later than 9pm without affecting the party's voting numbers or taking leave off other MPs.

She also believed it was time Parliament developed more formal, wider guidelines for mothers of young children, including rules on taking a baby into the House.

Speaker David Carter said he would talk to the business committee about allowing mothers of young babies to be away on occasion without affecting their party's leave quota.

"I think it is imperative we do do something to help young mothers."

He said MPs with young babies could already miss select committee meetings outside of Wellington without requiring a replacement or affecting the vote on the committee.

Ms Mahuta said putting rules in place that made nursing a child easier would help attract young women into Parliament.

Green MP Holly Walker is expecting a child in September and said a change to the leave rules would make a difference.

"The hours are one of the biggest hurdles to having young children in Parliament, especially if you're breastfeeding. But if it was unavoidable, such as where care arrangements fell through and you were on House duty, I'd like to know I could do so without it making a scene."

Labour whip Chris Hipkins said the party would support a change to give nursing mothers leave on top of the usual allocation.

Every effort had been made to give Ms Mahuta as much leave as possible, but sometimes that was impossible because other MPs also had commitments outside Parliament.

Current rule

* Parties must have 75 per cent of MPs in Parliament to cast all votes, regardless of the reasons for individual MPs being on leave.

Proposal

* Allow nursing mothers special leave on a case-by-case basis, such as urgency or late nights, on top of their party's usual leave quotas.

- NZ Herald

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