Rodney Hide: You know that's not right, Nanaia

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Mahuta's complaint is a political stunt, says Rodney Hide. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mahuta's complaint is a political stunt, says Rodney Hide. Photo / Christine Cornege

I am not sure MP Nanaia Mahuta is the ideal flag-bearer for Kiwi mums struggling to manage babies in the modern-day workplace. Her call to Speaker David Carter for a more mum-friendly Parliament presents itself as a poorly executed political stunt rather than a serious attempt to shine a light on the plight of working mothers.

Mahuta complained, saying she was "forced" to attend a late-night Budget debate with her 5-month-old daughter but had to leave before the vote because her daughter started crying.

She complained to Speaker Carter, declaring: "No child should be in the workplace from nine 'til midnight". Mahuta is exactly right. Babies at night should be tucked up nice and warm in bed. They certainly shouldn't be sitting in Parliament.

But her complaint to Speaker Carter is grandstanding and false. Mahuta's workplace is already the most flexible on the planet. It's not the Dickensian workhouse that she portrays.

There is absolutely no need nor requirement for a mum to be with her baby in the debating chamber until midnight.

Not one of Labour's 33 MPs was required by Parliament's rules to be in Parliament that night. The only requirement is for a presiding officer and a Government Minister. Two MPs on their own can conduct the business of the House.

Indeed, if no Labour MP had turned up the Budget and associated Bills would have quickly passed. Everyone would have gone home early. And Labour's absence would not have made one jot of difference. The Budget and all Budget legislation were guaranteed to pass whether or not the Labour MPs turned up.

The only difference a Labour no-show would make is that their opposition would not be registered within the Parliamentary record. But, outside, we already all know that Labour oppose the Budget. We all get that. There was no need for Labour to be debating in Parliament until midnight to make us aware of their opposition.

But even to debate and to vote requires only one Labour MP. There was no necessity under the rules of Parliament for any other Labour MP to be present.

Thirty-two of them could have been home tucked up in bed sound asleep. And still Labour's opposition would be both duly noted and recorded.

That's why Mahuta's complaint is precious. There's no other workplace where the business can carry on with a 97 per cent absenteeism. Indeed, with that many away Parliament's business would have been conducted most expeditiously.

It's true the sole MP would not have been able to vote the full 33 Labour votes against. To do that 75 per cent of Labour's MPs must be present in the Parliament complex. But note: it's only in the complex. Only one MP is required to be in the House to vote and to debate. The other 23 can be in their offices snoozing and looking after baby in her cot. Nine Labour MPs could be at home, including with baby, and still Labour would be able to vote full strength.

Opposition parliamentary parties regularly vote less than their full complement, especially during urgency, because more than a quarter of their MPs are away.

It's wrong for Mahuta to present herself as a mother balancing work and a new baby under such rules. It shows she's out of touch with the reality of working mums.

It's also wrong for her to imply that Parliament's rules forced her with her baby into the Chamber that Friday night. They didn't. If there was any forcing it would have been by the Labour whips. They control and dictate who among Labour's caucus must be within the Parliamentary complex and who must attend the debating chamber. It's not the Speaker's nor Parliament's rules.

Mahuta's complaint is a political stunt. It makes a mockery of how tough it is for mums in the actual workforce.

- Herald on Sunday

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