NZ Speaker makes Parliament more child-friendly

New Zealand Speaker Trevor Mallard feeding an MP's baby during a parliamentary session in Wellington on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS
New Zealand Speaker Trevor Mallard feeding an MP's baby during a parliamentary session in Wellington on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON • As New Zealand lawmakers vigorously debated fuel prices in Parliament this week, Speaker Trevor Mallard called for order while feeding baby Tutanekai his milk.

The six-week-old son of Labour MP Tamati Coffey and his husband, born via a surrogate mother last month, was being cuddled by his father in the debating chamber on Wednesday when the Speaker offered to hold him.

"There are times when I can be vaguely useful," Mr Mallard said, adding that he tried to help care for lawmakers' babies when possible.

The newborn joins many other babies in the legislature after Mr Mallard relaxed rules in 2017 to make Parliament more child-friendly. About a dozen MPs have had infants in a parliamentary baby boom, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year became New Zealand's first premier to take maternity leave as well as the world's second elected leader to give birth in office.

Her daughter Neve Te Aroha made headlines last September when Ms Ardern took her to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

But worker rights advocates said few New Zealanders get the same rights to balance caring for their families with work, and they hope the high-profile parliamentary babies will bring a wider change in working conditions.

Ms Tania Te Whenua, a Maori lawyer, said she had felt hostility in previous workplaces over her young children visiting her at work.

 
 

Mr Mallard, a political veteran with three adult children and six grandchildren, hoped more employers would follow his lead.

"What I've found is that it adds to the positive atmosphere of the workplace," he said, adding that he often encountered babies in the halls of power and even the indoor parliamentary swimming pool.

Their presence provides a boost to morale, evidenced from the eagerness of official messengers to swop their usual document deliveries for the task of taking an infant into Parliament instead, he said.

"When there's a baby to be carried in... there's a fair bit of competition to do the job," said Mr Mallard.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2019, with the headline 'NZ Speaker makes Parliament more child-friendly'. Print Edition | Subscribe