The shocking treatment of a breastfeeding public servant at the Agriculture Department in Canberra has spurred bosses to transform their workplace into one of Australia’s best for lactating mothers.

But the change only came about after a bureaucrat who was trying to express milk in a first aid room was kicked out of the facility by an over-zealous health and safety officer, who told the mother that expressing milk was not first aid.

The incident at Agriculture came to light as Australian Taxation Office executives are pressured over their agency’s attitude to breastfeeding mothers, with female tax officials complaining of being forced by their managers to express or breastfeed in car parks or toilets.

Agriculture insiders say the department’s breastfeeding policies asked workers to agree arrangements with their bosses with most women using first aid or sick rooms at the department’s Canberra HQ until one day in late 2013.

“Things came to a head when an OH&S officer became possessive of the first aid rooms and enforced a requirement that these rooms could only be used for the sick,” an Agriculture staffer said.

In the wake the incident and under pressure from public sector union the CPSU, a new system was instituted but not to everyone’s satisfaction according to the bureaucrat, who chose to remain anonymous.

“Breastfeeding employees were forced to use a single carers’ room on a tight, over-subscribed  roster basis,” the insider said.

“If you missed your time slot, because a meeting ran overtime, too bad – you had to find a quiet corner somewhere in the open plan office.”

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An Agriculture spokeswoman said on Thursday that the last of three new special purpose breastfeeding rooms had now been built at Agriculture’s central Canberra HQ, making it one of the Australian Public Service’s most lactating friendly workplaces.

“The Department of Agriculture is a breastfeeding friendly workplace and provides three breastfeeding rooms in Canberra, the third opened in May 2014,” the spokeswoman said.

“These rooms meet the criteria outlined in the Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace program promoted by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

“The rooms demonstrate the department’s commitment to promoting a workplace that is inclusive, flexible and one that actively supports working mums and families.”

The Australian Breastfeeding Association says it is concerned after reading in The Canberra Times of the problems faced by lactating mothers at the Australian Taxation Office.

The Association’s Susan Day said she had written to the ATO, offering advice on how to become a breastfeeding friendly workplace. 

“The sorts of comments from ATO employees quoted … is exactly what Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation was designed to stop occurring,” Ms Day wrote.

“It is concerning in 2014 to hear stories like … you mentioned in your article.”