Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in her office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 21 June 2012.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in her office at Parliament House, Canberra Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax

It is 2013, right? Why then, is a woman's status as a mother still relevant to her career potential?

It’s a question quite a few of us are asking since Bob Hawke said that, while Tanya Plibersek was “a very impressive representative,” she may not be a candidate for Labor leadership as she has a three-year-old child. "She could be a candidate for the deputy," he told The Australian.

At the top of Bob Hawke’s list is Bill Shorten. WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO HAVE A THREE-YEAR-OLD.

Tanya Plibersek meme

Tanya Plibersek meme by Destroy the Joint

Journalist Lisa Wilkinson first pointed out the inconsistency on Twitter, while Destroy The Joint’s meme has been shared more than 760 times.

What I'd like to tell Bob Hawke is this. Being the leader of the Opposition is no doubt a huge job, but Tanya also has three children under the age of 13. She’s been in politics since before her children were born, and managed a $5.1 billion health portfolio as a cabinet minister in the Labor government. It is up to her and her alone as to whether she is able to step up to leadership.

It's not up to anyone – even a retired prime minister – to presume how much her children factor in to her career decisions. As Plibersek herself has admitted, with a hands-on husband, a nanny and on-site childcare facilities at parliament, she’s more fortunate than many working mums.

If we want articulate, modern, driven parliamentarians leading our future then it is  a given that many – both men and women – will have young families.

While male politicians pose with their families for charming photographs in the Sunday newspapers, how their family factors in to their career choice is not a matter of scrutiny. Women, meanwhile, are judged either on their lack of children (always an issue for Julia Gillard – "how can she relate to mothers?") or questioned on how they plan to juggle the whole catastrophe.

What I’d like to see is Parliament becoming more friendly for all parents, ensuring the widest diversity of candidates representing the Australian public.

For starters, how about sitting hours that are less than 10 hours a day, often stretching into the early hours of the morning? (On one memorable occasional in 2011, the parliament sat for 22 hours straight.)

Australia has now sunk to 45th position when it comes to representation of women in Parliament. Now is not the time for women to take a back seat, to let the men get on with it, to be quiet and wait their turn.

In an election which saw swings to both the Coalition and minor parties in most seats, Plibersek comfortably won her seat of Sydney on Saturday with a 46% primary vote. In addition to being wildly popular she’s also smart, she’s compassionate and she’s strong. It would be a huge pity if she was not to be considered for the top spot as Labor rebuilds, especially if it comes down to her status as a mother.

Besides, what three-year-old wouldn’t be impressed if mum was prime minister one day?

UPDATE: You can watch Bob Hawke's comments in context in this Sky News video interview with David Speers.

Read what others are saying about Bob Hawke's comments in the Essential Baby forum