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Breast Feeding (Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2009)

Extract from Hansard: Wednesday 9th September 2009

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [4.32 pm]: I rise to support this bill. I speak as a woman and as a mother who has breastfed three children. I would like to put on the record that I found the comments of the Attorney General offensive and his interpretation of the legislation offensive and mean-spirited. We are going to waste all afternoon trying to deny a simple legislative right. I know what it is like to sit in a restaurant very discreetly breastfeeding a baby and then be asked to go to the public toilet. A woman should not have to do that. We should have protection in legislation. It just involves a few simple words. I am shaking. This is why we need women in Parliament.
Mrs M.H. Roberts: Hear, hear. That’s why they’ve got only two Liberal women in Parliament.
Mr C.J. Barnett: The member for Fremantle is a lawyer. Let’s hear the case. I want to hear the case.
Mrs M.H. Roberts: It is not that she is a woman; it’s that she’s a lawyer that makes her remarks worth listening to.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms L.L. Baker): Members! Member for Fremantle, please continue.
Ms A.S. CARLES: It is a legal issue and it is also an emotional issue, as members can see. I will rise to speak again in a few minutes.
Point of Order
Mr E.S. RIPPER: It would appear that the member for Fremantle would like to resume her speech. Perhaps we can find a way for that to happen rather than give someone else the call. I am taking my point of order as slowly as I can.
Debate Resumed
Ms A.S. CARLES: There are just men sitting in this Parliament.
The ACTING SPEAKER: Member for Fremantle, I mistakenly thought that you had finished. You can have the call again.
Ms A.S. CARLES: I will resume my remarks. I would like to ask the Attorney General whether he consulted with women in the Liberal Party about their position. Did he seek their advice?
Mr C.C. Porter: This did not go to the party room. As the Premier said, if you can make a case that the situation we have encountered is not discrimination under the act, I will simply take it to the party room.
Ms A.S. CARLES: Does the Attorney General accept that this is women’s business and that perhaps he is not the best qualified person to give us a legal interpretation on something that he does not understand?
Mr C.C. Porter: It is everyone’s business. The idea that somehow you attempt to paint me as anti-women or anti-breastfeeding is nonsensical. The message I am sending out is that that situation is actually unlawful.
Ms A.S. CARLES: The Attorney General is not answering my question. Did the Attorney General consult with the women in the Liberal Party?
Mr C.C. Porter: I have answered that question. This is not a matter that went to our party room because there is not a difficulty under the terms of the act.
Ms A.S. CARLES: The Attorney General made a unilateral decision. He does not have children and he did not consult with any breastfeeding women. He came into this place and gave a literal interpretation.
Mr C.C. Porter: It is the correct interpretation.
Ms A.S. CARLES: I find it so mean-spirited. It almost leaves me speechless that we are fighting about a couple of words that would protect women’s rights. It is not often that we get the opportunity to do that in the Legislative Assembly.
Mr A.P. O’Gorman interjected.
Ms A.S. CARLES: Exactly. That is why we do not have case law. Women just go to the toilets in restaurants so they can get over the embarrassment and deal with their baby. Women do not want to breastfeed in public. If a baby starts crying in a situation, the mother has to deal with it. Babies stop crying when they take the comfort of the breast. That is what women do to stop that embarrassment. They should have the right to do that.
Mr C.C. Porter: But I do have case law. I have pointed out a case in which, based on the family care provisions and family status provisions, the situation that we are debating today gave rise to the situation and would represent discrimination. It is covered.
Ms A.S. CARLES: Why should a woman have to try to find that? Why can she not say in the restaurant, “I have a right to do this by statute, so leave me alone”?
Mr C.C. Porter: With respect, irrespective of whether we do it this way or leave it the way it is, someone still has to make a complaint to the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity to start the process. The law is quite clear.
Ms A.S. CARLES: It is not quite clear. It would be clear if we passed this amendment today. Right now it is not clear and that is why the opposition has raised this matter. It is a matter of a simple word. I ask the Attorney General to stop being so mean-spirited. On behalf of women, I ask the government to allow this amendment to go through today.

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