Liberal MP and new mum Kelly O'Dwyer told to express more breast milk to avoid missing votes in the chamber
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Liberal MP and new mum Kelly O'Dwyer told to express more breast milk to avoid missing votes in the chamber

One of the government's rising stars, Kelly O'Dwyer, has been advised to express more breast milk for her newborn baby to avoid her breastfeeding interfering with her duties in the parliamentary chamber.

The advice came from the office of the government's Chief Whip Scott Buchholz, who subsequently had to consult his Labor counterpart to find out how to better deal with a breastfeeding MP in accordance with the standing orders.

Under the standing orders - the set of rules which govern behaviour of MPs in the chamber - new mothers who are breastfeeding are given a proxy vote in the Parliament. This means their vote is counted even though they are not physically in the chamber.

But the Whip was unaware of the exemption until he consulted the opposition's Chief Whip, Chris Hayes, about the matter.

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Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer with her daughter Olivia.

Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer with her daughter Olivia.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The issue flared up on two occasions when Ms O'Dwyer was unable to attend a division and a speaking obligation because she had just begun breastfeeding. On one of these occasions her office was asked whether the MP had considered expressing more milk instead of breastfeeding.

The pair have subsequently resolved the dispute. Both declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax Media but sources separate to Mr Buchholz and Ms O'Dwyer told Fairfax Media the Member for Higgins was furious at being told to consider expressing more milk over breastfeeding her daughter Olivia, who was born in May.

The revelation comes as new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull works on the shape of his new cabinet.

Mr Buchholz, a Queensland Liberal National MP was promoted to the job of Chief Whip by former prime minister Tony Abbott, as part of the fallout from the attempted spill in February earlier this year.

Government Whip Scott Buchholz has been among those hammering the banks.

Government Whip Scott Buchholz has been among those hammering the banks.

The former whip Phillip Ruddock was dumped just days after Mr Abbott stared down a spill motion to remove him as leader and was replaced with Mr Buchholz. Another Abbott loyalist, Tasmanian Liberal Andrew Nickolic was also promoted and made a Deputy Whip. Mr Nickolic has made headlines in recent days, after it was revealed he texted Mr Turnbull demanding he rule out a challenge to Mr Abbott's leadership.

Ms O'Dwyer returned to Parliament for the first time in August since giving birth to her baby Olivia in May. She is one of three new mothers in the Parliament this year.

Ms O'Dwyer, pictured with Labor's Amanda Rishworth and son Percy, is one of three new mums in the Parliament.

Ms O'Dwyer, pictured with Labor's Amanda Rishworth and son Percy, is one of three new mums in the Parliament.

Photo: Andrew Meares

Labor's health spokeswoman Catherine King said on Wednesday that the proxy vote for breastfeeding mothers was introduced when her son was a baby.

"He is now [seven years old]," she tweeted. "The Whip should have known."

Ms O'Dwyer was promoted to the frontbench late last year and could be promoted under Mr Turnbull who on Wednesday said he wanted more women in his cabinet.

"There is no greater enthusiast than me to see more women in positions of power, influence, Parliament, ministries, right across the country," the Prime Minister told reporters at Parliament House.

Mr Abbott included just one woman in his first cabinet and after sustained pressure to boost female representation in the Coalition, promoted a second woman into cabinet in the December reshuffle.

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Latika Bourke is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age based in London. She has previously worked for Fairfax Media, the ABC and 2UE in Canberra. Latika won the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010.