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Senate ejection stirs wide debate over kids at work

THE ejection from Australia's Senate of a lawmaker's 2-year-old daughter who subsequently screamed in distress ignited a national debate yesterday about whether parents should take their children to work.

First-time mother Senator Sarah Hanson-Young couldn't find a staffer to look after her daughter Kora while she voted in the Senate late on Thursday in Canberra, so she took the toddler into the chamber with her.

The child played quietly for several minutes before Senate President John Hogg ordered her ejected. Kora screamed in distress as a Senate staffer took her from her mother's arms and out the Senate door.

"We can't allow children to be in here for a division," Hogg told Hanson-Young, referring to the vote.

Senate rules allow senators to nurse infants in the chambers, but otherwise only senators and attendants are permitted inside. The parliament opened its first child care center this year.

The incident dominated morning news broadcasts yesterday.

Callers to ABC Canberra talk radio overwhelmingly opposed children being allowed into the Senate, except when they are being nursed.

"It is a place of business and it's very important that we have people there who are attending" to Senate business, said a working mother of three named Ann. "I know darn well that with the job I do, I could not take my children; I would not be attending to the needs of my clients if I did."

But another caller, Ruth, pointed out the difficulties of juggling child care and work, especially for senators who work long and irregular hours.

"I think it's quite acceptable in the situation to take your child into the chamber," she said. "I'm sure Senator Hanson-Young isn't going to make a habit of doing this. Some flexibility or some compassion could have been shown."

Lawmakers were divided on the incident.

Hogg said in a statement yesterday that he "could have handled the situation ... better," and welcomed the Senate plans to examine his ruling next Monday.


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