30 Mar Young politician dads around the house
Richard Ferguson – The Australian – 30 March 2021
Young fathers in federal parliament are pushing for smarter working hours and more help for families who want to visit their MP mums and dads in Canberra.
Liberal MP Julian Simmonds, Labor MP Josh Burns and Coalition senator James Paterson are among the men in parliament with young children who want to play their part in detoxifying the parliament’s culture and making it easier for women and men to juggle politics and family.
Mr Simmonds — who entered parliament in 2019 and is father to Theo, 3, and Isabella, nine months — told The Australian practical solutions such as shorter hours could help to promote change. “I’m a young Dad and I find the time away from my kids the hardest part of the job. Not being there to tuck them in and not being there for my wife Maddy to tackle the day-to-day. And it’s not for a week or two, it’s 20 weeks of the year,” he told The Australian.
“If you’re a women who is looking to start a family or has a family, it is remiss of us not to understand that practically the hours, the travel and the uncertainty of this job are going to factor into your decision making. I think we can change that.”
The COVID-19 crisis also saw more parliamentarians drop into question time and committees via videolinks, and Mr Simmonds said this should be used more post-coronavirus. Mr Simmonds — the Liberal MP for the western Brisbane seat of Ryan — also said on Sunday that if the government helped young families to stay in Canberra more often with their politician parents, it might create a new atmosphere in parliament.
“Having more families and kids roaming the halls in Canberra will also help promote a more positive culture and make ours a modern workplace that better supports everyone,” Mr Simmonds said.
“Let’s not lose the best person for the job simply because we can’t support them like the private sector can.”
Mr Burns — the Labor MP for the inner-Melbourne seat of Macnamara and dad to Tia, 2 — said the parliament’s sitting calendar should be redesigned to give parents more time at home.
“My job is an absolute privilege but I miss my daughter. I look forward to every Thursday of the sitting week so I can go back to her,” Mr Burns said.
“It’s really hard going two weeks straight so you only get 48 hours with your family during that time. If the calendar was spaced out more it would be better for mum and dads and would be more attractive for people wanting to get into politics.”
Last month’s revelation of sexual assault and bad behaviour have been partly put down to the youth and inexperience of political staffers in Canberra.
Senator Paterson — the head of the powerful parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security and father to two children under the age of six — said better hours at parliament would attract older staff members with more experience.
“I couldn’t even imagine what is like for young mums in parliament. The hours we have to work, especially around estimates, would be considered illegal in many workplaces,” he said.
“If there were better hours, it wouldn’t just improve the situation for MPs. It would make parliament a more attractive place for older, more experienced staffers. Many potential hires would re-evaluate working here — and improving the culture — if it were more family-friendly.”