Aussie MP quits for more family time

Father of three says regular absence affected family, sparks debate on clash between political and parenting duties

Earlier this month in Australia, an up-and-coming MP and father of three young children called a sudden press conference and announced he was quitting to spend time with his family.

Perhaps more surprisingly, it turned out there was no scandal and that his excuse - so often used by public figures - was genuine.

Mr Tim Hammond, a 43-year-old opposition Labor party member and former lawyer, entered Parliament only two years ago, but said the workload meant he could not "be the best dad that I could be".

"I thought I had an appreciation of how to manage my duties as a federal Member of Parliament in a way that did not have such an impact on my family. I got that wrong," he said.

"I just did not anticipate the profound effect my absence would have on all of us."

Mr Hammond's decision has prompted debate in Australia about whether he did the right thing and if the duties of a politician are incompatible with being a parent.

Opposition Labor party's Mr Tim Hammond with his seven-month-old son Tully. He said video calls did not make up for the regular absence from his three young children.
Opposition Labor party's Mr Tim Hammond with his seven-month-old son Tully. He said video calls did not make up for the regular absence from his three young children. PHOTO: TIM HAMMOND/ FACEBOOK

Some critics said Mr Hammond "knew what he was signing up for" and that many parents in all walks of life face heavy workloads and regular travel.

A City of Sydney councillor, Ms Angela Vithoulkas, said Mr Hammond had agreed to represent and serve the public and should have stuck with the job even if it was stressful or onerous.

"He did know what this was going to be like before he got into it," she told an ABC Television panel show.

"There are lots of dads that go to work and their kids are still asleep in the morning and they come home at night so late that their kids are already in bed."

But the response to Mr Hammond's announcement was largely supportive.

Consultant paediatrician Chris Elliot praised the politician, saying it was rare for men to change their careers to spend more time at home.

He said he and his wife - also a doctor - each worked three days a week to ensure they had more time for their family.

UNDERESTIMATED HIS ABSENCE

I thought I had an appreciation of how to manage my duties as a federal Member of Parliament in a way that did not have such an impact on my family. I got that wrong. I just did not anticipate the profound effect my absence would have on all of us.

MR TIM HAMMOND

"I'm delighted Hammond has… been able to give his family more time and I wish them all the best," he wrote in Fairfax Media.

"I hope more men have and take that opportunity... It's also not easy, it won't suit every family, and that's OK."

An editor at Women's Agenda website, Ms Georgina Dent, said she "nearly wept with joy" when reading Dr Elliot's comments.

"The power of seeing… men like Tim Hammond and Dr Elliot who have made the choice to either step back entirely or work part-time or work flexibly, so they can be present for their family, cannot be overstated," she wrote.

Australia is one of the world's largest countries in land area, so those who travel extensively for work can find that it exacts a heavy price on their families.

Mr Hammond, who was promoted to Labor's front bench, had been an MP in Western Australia.

He was required to travel to the east coast - a 41/2 hour flight away - to attend Parliament in Canberra.

He chose to take overnight flights to minimise his time away from home, but he said video calls did not make up for the regular absence from his children.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Mr Hammond received strong support from his political opponents.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, a Liberal MP who also lives in Western Australia, said he was saddened by Mr Hammond's resignation.

"Public service as a federal politician from (Western Australia) is tough on our families," he said.

"While we are political competitors, we are also friends and colleagues involved in the same profession, focused on making a positive difference to our community and to our country."

The heavy workload and travel for Australian politicians - most of whom do not live in the capital - have often been blamed for keeping people, particularly women, from entering politics.

About 32 per cent of Australia's MPs after the 2016 election were women.

Labor MP Clare O'Neil was concerned the burdens of political life may prevent "ordinary Australians" from seeking to become MPs.

"If all the ordinary people who value their families leave the system, then we end up being governed by fanatics, and that's not good for anyone," she told The Australian Financial Review.

Mr Hammond appeared to have few regrets about his decision.

He told the PerthNow website last week that he planned to return to work as a barrister.

"You don't get two goes at life, or two goes at your children," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 13, 2018, with the headline 'Aussie MP quits for more family time'. Print Edition | Subscribe