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Pregnant councillor claims request to work from home denied

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A Brisbane City councillor said she was told to catch a cab to work, after having a planned caesarean-section birth early next year, in response to her request to attend meetings online.

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Deputy Labor Opposition Leader Kara Cook is due to have her third child in January and is not entitled to maternity leave in her position.

Cook said she asked to participate in meetings remotely but was told it was “not possible” — despite the technology being used by the council during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

“The answer yesterday was no,” she told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“They hadn’t foreseen that we might need to have hybrid meetings and they weren’t prepared to update the technology to allow that to happen,” she said.

Cook said she just wanted to “do her job” and the council had no “reasonable explanation” to not upgrade the current system.

“There’s an unwillingness to move with the times,” she said.

“It’s 2020, we want to encourage women’s participation in politics …We’ve seen other levels of government adapt.”

Cook said her only options were to take leave or to attend the meetings in person with her “unvaccinated child”, as babies are not vaccinated until six weeks old.

“Any woman who’s had a c-section would know you can’t drive. Council’s response to that was they would give me a cab voucher,” she said.

‘It doesn’t make us special’

An LNP councillor, Fiona Cunningham, is also expecting a baby in the new year, but said she “didn’t share” Cook’s concerns and is opting to take leave after giving birth.

“I’m also having a caesarean — it doesn’t make us special, thousands of women do this every day,” she said.

“Hybrid meetings would not work for me … I’m taking that time to spend with my baby,” she said.

Cunningham said Cook was not being “locked out” of any political process.

“She can listen in, she also has other colleagues in the chamber who can represent her views and who can represent her constituents,” she said.

“This is not locking her out … and it’s ridiculous to say that it is.”

Council denies ruling out remote attendance

A council spokesman said in a statement “at no stage has Council ruled out hybrid meetings”.

“While the existing technology is unable to facilitate hybrid meetings, the CEO has advised Cook that Council is currently investigating what can be done to make them possible in the future,” the spokesman said.

“Brisbane City Council will do whatever it can to help both the Councillor for Morningside Ward and the Councillor for Coorparoo Ward return to work following the birth of their newborns.

“Similar to other levels of government, councillors have the flexibility to take as much or as little leave as they choose.”

– ABC / Talissa Siganto

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