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May 10, 2009 12:00am

WORKING mothers should be allowed time-out – and private space – for breastfeeding at work, says retired senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

The former leader of the Democrats, who quit politics last year to spend more time with her family, said Australian women were still being denied their chance to “have it all”.

And paid maternity leave, as well as breastfeeding breaks, were part of “a suite of reforms” needed for women to achieve a healthy work-family balance.

“I am a great believer that women can and should have it all and the only thing holding them back is a lack of support in society,” mother-of-two Ms Stott Despoja says.

“It’s not about us. We don’t have to choose one pursuit over the other.”

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Ms Stott Despoja also reveals:

SHE “wouldn’t rule out” a return to politics, but has no regrets about quitting Canberra last year;

BEING a mother to Conrad, 4, and Cordelia, 14 months, has made her “a more relaxed person”;

SHE believes family, and mothers in particular, are undervalued in Australia;

HER bid to help women in developing countries across the globe.

And the long-term campaigner for paid maternity leave admits feeling “nervous” about Tuesday’s Federal Budget.

Ms Stott Despoja says the global financial crisis would be no excuse if a government-funded plan was left out, because “the economics show it is easily do-able”.

And she warns that progress on family-friendly schemes, such as breastfeeding breaks, has largely stalled.

Ms Stott Despoja says the right to breastfeeding breaks could be enshrined in workplace agreements and that most businesses were capable of providing “a clean, private and secure room” for mothers to breastfeed or express milk.

“It’s a short interruption to her (working) day,” she says.

But while this issue remains close to Ms Stott Despoja’s political heart, it no longer applies personally.

She quit her 13-year senate career last June and lives in Adelaide with her husband, former Liberal Party adviser Ian Smith, and their children.

But her resignation was in no way an admission women can’t have careers and family.

“I have had a wonderful, full-time – more than full-time – career and I was really proud of how I balanced work and family because everyone knows it involves a degree of sacrifice or difficulty,” she says.

“I like to think I am living proof of what feminism is all about and that is choice.

“I have been in the fortunate position where I could make that choice. And for me (resigning) was such a clear decision, the right decision.

“That’s not because I don’t love politics or my party.

“But there were certain things in my family’s life that I didn’t want to miss out on, like going with Conrad on his first day (of pre-school) and seeing my husband more often.

“I’m really, really enjoying spending quality time with my children. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

The path to two-time parenthood was complicated for Ms Stott Despoja, who today celebrates her fifth Mother’s Day.

In 2006, when Conrad was almost two, Ms Stott Despoja had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, when the embryo grows outside the uterus.

Looking back, she says it was difficult when her private heartache became public.

“I had experienced media scrutiny (before) . . . but some issues are particularly private and personal,” she says.

“But as public figures, you don’t often get to decide to what extent these issues get talked about.”

As well as being a full-time mother, Ms Stott Despoja has positions on the boards of beyondblue, the Advertising Standards Board and the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute for medical research.

Ms Stott Despoja today launches the Burnet Institute’s Women for Women campaign aimed at improving the health of women across the globe.,21985,25454025-2862,00.html

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