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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (20 October) . . Page.. 3341 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Under this legislation, breastfeeding becomes a specific ground of discrimination, and thus the whole provisions of the Act apply to protect a breastfeeding mother from discrimination. She cannot, for example, be refused services in a restaurant. She cannot be discriminated against for breastfeeding in the workplace. She can breastfeed anywhere and any time her baby demands, so long as it is not unreasonable to do so. We are not saying that there are absolutely no other problems associated with breastfeeding.

There are other issues, such as the way in which it occurs, but the Act provides that the exercising of those rights, if they are done reasonably, is a matter for which people ought to be afforded protection. For example, under this legislation, a woman who wished to breastfeed in the workplace would not be prevented from doing so. A woman who needed to have her child with her in the workplace to do so may be in a different position, however, from that of another employee who did not require child care to be able to attend to their duties as an employee.

I am not sure whether one would construe the passage of this amendment as a decision that required an employer, for example, to ensure that a woman who was still nursing small children would have to be provided with employment. That may be going too far. That is not a matter on which this legislation needs to touch at this stage. I simply flag that as an issue which will need to be examined in due course. However, as long as it is reasonable to do so, it seems to me quite appropriate that a woman should be able to breastfeed her children in the workplace or in some other appropriate setting.

The Discrimination Act allows a person to impose a condition or requirement that is reasonable in the circumstances. As I said, that would be a relevant factor to be considered in determining whether an employer discriminated against a woman who sought time off, for example, to breastfeed her baby. I note that other jurisdictions, particularly, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, have legislated to this effect. In Queensland, discrimination against breastfeeding is unlawful only in the provision of goods and services but perhaps not in other circumstances.

Consequential amendments are necessary for completeness and I think will enhance the effectiveness of the legislation. The amendment to section 37 will mean that, if an employer allows a woman to take some time off work to breastfeed a baby or express milk for storage, a man who of course does not have the same privilege has no cause for complaint. The amendment to section 39 will allow an employer to provide private living accommodation instead of shared accommodation to a breastfeeding mother to afford her greater privacy without this action amounting to discrimination against other workers who do not have non-shared accommodation.

I have to admit that there is some doubt about whether this legislation is strictly necessary. There is an argument which has been put to me that the provisions of the Act regarding the outlawing of discrimination on the basis of status as a parent would, in itself, carry the connotation that discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding was also illegal. However, I think it is important to put that matter beyond doubt. Apart from anything else, these amendments amount to an important step in raising public awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding, about increasing its acceptability and about encouraging women to not alter their lifestyle or have to end early the

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