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Fed: Kids in parliament spat goes to committee

By Bonny Symons-Brown
22 Jun 2009 9:26 PM

CANBERRA, June 22 AAP - A senate committee will consider amending rules to allow children into the upper house after the removal of a Greens senator's two-year-old created a stir last week

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young took her daughter into the chamber for a vote last Thursday, but Senate President John Hogg ordered the child be removed.

The incident prompted Greens leader Bob Brown to successfully move a motion on Monday requesting the Procedure Committee to consider changing the rules so the Senate president could decide whether children were allowed on the floor.

Liberal senator and Chair of Committees Alan Ferguson said the "court of public opinion" overwhelmingly supported Senator Hogg's decision.

"I'm not so sure people outside of this place would look favourably on us changing the standing orders," he told parliament.

He said Senator Hanson-Young should have met with Senator Hogg to discuss the possibility of her child entering the chamber before the incident occurred.

"If you want to change the standing orders, change them before you break them. Don't break the standing orders in the hope that they can be changed afterwards," Senator Ferguson said.

Senator Brown had originally proposed a motion of dissent against Senator Hogg's ruling but amended it after a "very gracious" statement by the president acknowledging the incident could have been handled differently.

Senator Ferguson said the dissent motion should never have been moved when Senator Hogg was simply upholding the chamber's standing orders.

Senator Brown said while he was sorry Senator Hogg was put in a difficult position, it was a timely catalyst to set some new guidelines.

Quoting from the Bible, he said people had tried to exclude children on a "very famous occasion" 2,000 years ago.

"And Christ said on that occasion suffer little children to come unto me," he said.

"Don't let the officials get in the way of denying children access that other people have."

Senator Brown said children shouldn't ordinarily be present in the Senate, but there were the "odd occasions" where it was appropriate.

Labor senator Chris Evans said the motion was a "sensible" way to resolve the issue.

"The parliament needs to continue to look at the way we deal with work and family balance," he said.

But the federal government would not be supporting a broad widening of the orders to accommodate children.

Senator Evans chastised Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce for dubbing the incident, which left Senator Hanson-Young and her daughter in tears, a Greens stunt.

"This wasn't a stunt, this was a normal human reaction in a difficult situation, and I think to make allegations about stunts etcetera is not helpful," he said.

Senator Joyce stood by his statement, which Senator Hanson-Young said was "offensive and ignorant".

"I hope that the incident on Thursday and the experience my daughter and I have had as a result over the past few days never has to be repeated," she said.

Meanwhile, Labor MP Catherine King brought a toddler into the House of Representatives for a vote on Monday, drawing no response from the chair.