Good cause, good speeches, good Parliament – bereavement leave for miscarriage

Some very good speeches for a very good cause in Parliament yesterday for the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2) — Second Reading. It helps that all parties have worked positively together and are are in general agreement

Parliament often gets negative coverage, and that can be for good reason. I was able to with Oral Questions (question time) yesterday and it was relatively mild but full of pointless and patsy questions, often repeated, and avoided answers. This from question 8:

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker This is a question on notice, and the second part of the primary question about how many projects have completed due diligence but are unannounced I don’t believe was actually addressed by the Minister.

SPEAKER: I think it was addressed. It wasn’t answered, but it was addressed.

What’s the point in having questions that are supposed to hold Ministers and the Government to account when they don’t have to be answered?

But following Question Time was some of the best Parliament I have seen. The Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage bill was a private member’s bill introduced by Ginny Andersen, Labour list MP.

Most of those speaking for the Bill are MPs we don’t see much of.

GINNY ANDERSEN (Labour):

I move, That the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a second time.

At the moment, New Zealanders are entitled to bereavement leave after the loss of a family member or child, but that does not include loss through miscarriage or through stillbirth. This bill enables a simple change that allows existing bereavement leave to be automatically made available for those families that have been through a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

It is important that we allow families time to grieve, and I know for a fact that this is a sensitive topic that affects many families in New Zealand. I believe that it is important that parents know they have the right in law to grieve after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Currently, the bereavement leave provisions of the Holidays Act 2003 are ambiguous in their application to miscarriage. Employees are entitled to three days’ bereavement leave on the death of a child, but it is unclear whether this would also apply when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or in stillbirth. This ambiguity means that an employee’s entitlement is left at the discretion of the employer, and some families have not been able to take much needed time to grieve.

My bill makes a very simple change: it allows families certainty that they have a legal right to access bereavement leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. This bill removes the ambiguity by making it clear that, at the unplanned end of a pregnancy by miscarriage or stillbirth, this constitutes grounds for bereavement leave and that the duration of the leave should be in line with entitlement of other deaths within the immediate family.

Experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth is an incredibly difficult time for a family, and I believe what this bill represents is showing that we have compassion in allowing families time to grieve, through having the right in law. Not everyone who experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth may feel like they need to access bereavement leave; however, it is important that we give people the option to access that leave should they choose to or wish to need it.

There has been significant public support for this bill, with almost 7,000 members of the public signing an online petition to support the advocacy of members. Also, I would like to mention the person who initiated this bill, which was Kathryn van Beek, through being brave enough to tell her own story and to tell that in a public context.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge all of the women and those families and organisations that came through the select committee process and told their stories, and acknowledge that that process was not an easy one for many of those women. Many of the submissions at select committee on this bill spoke about the importance of legislation to provide time for those who have had a miscarriage and to have time to grieve that loss.

Submissions spoke about how a miscarriage or stillbirth is a traumatic time for all involved and how arguing with an employer about leave entitlement could potentially create further stress at this time. Submissions mentioned that many women in New Zealand experience miscarriage, with around 20,000 a year, and that there is a significant amount of stigma and discrimination surrounding miscarriage. The committee heard that bereavement leave may help to eliminate some of the stigma, shame, and silence and allow people to get the support they need, including in the workplace.

There were also personal stories amongst the submissions which spoke about the huge toll of having a miscarriage and how that can take a toll not only on the individual but also on the wider whānau. Women stated that having the ability to take time for bereavement leave would make a huge difference to those immediately involved surrounding that loss. They spoke about how this bill is an acknowledgment of those who have suffered miscarriages in the past and that has largely been done in silence, and it would acknowledge that grief.

I’d like to quickly run through some of the submissions, because I think the statements made by some of those people and those organisations were most apt in describing the current situation that can happen in the workplace and the issues which this bill is addressing.

I’d like to acknowledge the Council of Trade Unions. They stated that when a baby is lost through miscarriage or stillbirth, it is bereavement leave and not sick leave that is required. Bereavement leave is distinctly different from sick leave. Bereavement leave provides time for a person or people that have had the miscarriage or stillbirth for grieving that needs to be done after a death.

There are many stories of people who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth and have had to argue to take that leave. As well as having paid leave and having entitlement to that paid leave, it’s a statutory right that means job losses or job insecurity is not threatened by taking that leave or requesting to take that leave. A miscarriage or a stillbirth is a traumatic time and arguing about leave entitlements creates further stress and high emotion and it should not be at this time. It should be guaranteed as an employment right.

I would like to acknowledge Family Planning for what they contributed, and I think this contributes to the wider debate around what some of these issues are for New Zealand. They state: “Like other areas of sexual and reproductive health, it is important that we work to eliminate stigma, shame and silence surrounding miscarriage.

Historically, women have been blamed for and judged because of miscarriage, and sadly there are still societal beliefs and attitudes which perpetuate this discrimination, particularly in some areas of the world.

Misconceptions about the causes of miscarriage, as well as the ongoing discrimination women face about reproduction and reproductive decision-making contributes to shame and emotional distress experienced by people who have a miscarriage. This needs to change.

People deserve support, compassion and respect no matter what the outcome of a pregnancy and no matter what their decisions around reproduction … We hope this legislation not only provides relief to individuals who experience miscarriage, but helps to eliminate stigma, shame and silence surrounding miscarriage so that people can more easily reach out for the support they need from friends, family, colleagues and their wider community, where that is helpful.”

I would like to conclude by running through some of the key changes that the select committee made when considering this bill, and I would like to acknowledge the excellent work that was done. I believe that these changes strengthen the bill and provide greater clarity. Initially, it has made it clearer around the knowledge of pregnancy. It makes it clear that a mother does not need to have known they were pregnant. It acknowledges that sometimes when someone has a miscarriage they did not know that they were pregnant in the first place, and not having the word “confirmed” makes it clear you are still eligible.

Secondly, around proof of pregnancy, this is a change to clarify the proof that would not be required for an employee to take bereavement leave. The committee considered that removing the term “confirmed” is important because they did not want the term to be misunderstood and lead to an uncomfortable exchange between employee and employer.

Finally, also the definition of miscarriage—amending the definition of miscarriage to clarify that bereavement leave could be sought for the unplanned end of a pregnancy no matter how far along that pregnancy was. The committee recommends changing the definition in order to reflect that. This would ensure that any pregnancy that ends after 20 weeks would still be defined and included.

The fourth change is expanding the definition that would be able to be taking bereavement leave. The committee believes that parents planning to adopt a child and parents having a baby through surrogacy should also be entitled to bereavement leave on the unplanned end of a relevant pregnancy, and that that should be reflected by changing it in the bill.

The final change is the cause of pregnancy ending. It clarifies that employees who experience the end of a pregnancy by way of an abortion would not be eligible for bereavement leave. The committee believed that the intent of this bill is to provide bereavement leave to those who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, not for abortion. The committee recommended changing and removing the word “unplanned” from the bill.

In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge all of those women who submitted, all of the time that has been given to drive a change that I know will make a real difference in women’s and whānau lives around New Zealand. Nō reira, I commend this bill to the House.

BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki – King Country):

It’s a pleasure to stand and take a call on this bill this afternoon. I was a latecomer to this piece of legislation. I’ve only been the spokesperson for women for the past two weeks, and so I came into the select committee at the very last moment, when we were adjusting the last few pieces of wording before it came back to the House.

But I do want to congratulate, first of all, Ginny Andersen for putting this bill forward. Often, members’ bills see somewhere where there’s a small gap in a piece of legislation that makes such a huge difference, and this is going to make a big difference in the lives of women who suffer from miscarriage…

So National supports measures which support women and families, and that’s why we’re supporting this bill….

So I think, from me, that’s about all I’m going to say at this point, but I again congratulate the member and I congratulate the committee on the way with which they’ve worked with this bill and brought it to the House in the way it has been brought to the House, and it’s a pleasure to commend this bill to the House. Thank you.

JAN TINETTI (Labour):

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is truly a pleasure to stand in support of this bill here this afternoon, and I too want to take the time to congratulate my colleague, Ginny Andersen, on firstly bringing this bill to the ballot and then having it drawn from the ballot and then working through it with our Education and Workforce Committee.

I say my congratulations here this afternoon because I was away when this bill went through its first reading at the end of last year. I was really disappointed that I was away because I have a personal affinity to this bill, as I have suffered two miscarriages myself, one before my two children were born and one after my two children were born. Both were devastating on my life, and working through this with the select committee at the time brought back a whole lot of personal anxiety as I was working through that, but it also reminded me of just how necessary legislation like this is.

As the previous speaker, Barbara Kuriger, has said, sometimes there are small changes that are required in our law that seem small to many of us but make the biggest difference to so many people. This piece of legislation, as we heard in our select committee, will make a very, very big difference to so many people, and I will say particularly women.

It’s not just women; there are a number of men who will benefit from this bill as well, but I think that from my perspective, it really is the women who will benefit greatly from this bill…

Following speeches largely echoed similar sentiments, but I will note one of those, from first term National MP Dan Bidois. All I have seen of him is getting criticised and ridiculed on Twitter.

DAN BIDOIS (National—Northcote):

 It’s a pleasure to rise and take a brief call on the bereavement leave amendment to the Holidays Act bill that we’re discussing today. I do want to echo the congratulations to the member Ginny Andersen for bringing this issue to the House. It is through members’ bills that I think issues like this can be identified and resolved, so I do want to applaud her in the House. Also, to my fellow select committee colleague Jan Tinetti, I didn’t know those stories about what you faced, and thank you for giving realism to the bill that we’re discussing today and for sharing your story.

…But this is an important day for Ginny Andersen. It’s an important day for the more than 20,000 women out there who go through this process every year, and I want to acknowledge the members of the select committee, the officials, the submitters, and I commend this bill to the House.

It is good to see good Parliament. I was quite moved by some of the speeches. And I’m pleased to see a sensible use of a members’ bill that will achieve something worthwhile with cross-party cop-operation and support.

All transcripts: Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2) — Second Reading

National rejuvenation

National did a reasonable job of rejuvenation last term, with a number of MPs resigning, most of whom had minimal political futures. National have also turned over some ministers too, like Simon Power from the first term and Tony Ryal last year.

Andrea Vance has a look through the current ranks to see who might exit this term and who might be on the rise in Reshuffle likely as Nats rejuvenate.

Wellington’s worst-kept secret is that Trade Minister Tim Groser is shortly off to relieve Mike Moore as New Zealand’s ambassador in Washington.

Also likely to be waving goodbye to Parliament in 2017 is Assistant Speaker Lindsay Tisch, whether he likes it or not.

Murray McCully was talked about as a potential retiree before the last election and is a possible but it looks like he remains unwilling to indicate what his intentions are.

Bill English must also be considering his future. He gave up his Clutha-Southland electorate last year and is now a list MP, making it easy to retire without disruption this term.

And who will be looking to rise? As far as rising to the top goes this depends on how long John Key wants to stay, and there’s no sign yet that he wants to give up the top spot.

Amid the wreckage of the Northland by-election, there was conjecture about the damage it would do to the career prospects of Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett, who led the campaign.

After Judith Collins‘ sacking during the Dirty Politics saga, it became accepted Joyce and Bennett were front-runners to replace John Key as leader.

Bennett is probably fairly unscathed but Joyce was the face and the ‘mastermind’ of National’s Northland disaster and following his handling of the Sky City embarrassment he must have damaged his future chances.

Collins has been quietly rebuilding her career and is expected to be reinstated to Cabinet at the next reshuffle, presumably later this year (unless forced by an earlier resignation). She will have support but the Whale Oil taint might be hard to forget,

Vance also lists four up and comers, although three are rookies so may have to wait for promotion.

Alfred Ngaro, Parliament’s first Cook Islander and a thoughtful community worker, is almost certainly next cab off the rank into Cabinet. His campaign to win Te Atatu off Labour’s Phil Twyford has already begun.

I met him early in his first term at a National Party event. He seemed nice but was not very outgoing.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller (a former Zespri and Fonterra high-flier) is not new to politics: he was a staffer to Prime Minister Jim Bolger and has served on National’s list-ranking committee.

Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger, like other female backbenchers, has kept a low profile.

Chris Bishop (list MP), a protege of Joyce and a former tobacco lobbyist, was tipped to rise through the ranks even before he entered Parliament.

So there looks to be scope for rejuvenation in National this term, but the latter three would have to leapfrog quite a few other longer serving MPs.

A big issue for an overall perception of rejuvenation could be whether Key can look revitalised or at least interested. Being Prime Minister is a hard grind. More and more often he looks frustrated or annoyed at what he has to deal with.

Especially if English retires I think it’s likely Key will try and stay on to try for a fourth term.