Breastfeeding is a protected attribute. Discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding is explicitly illegal in all areas of public life.
A mother of three, Liana Webster was breastfeeding her baby at Bribie Island Aquatic Centre. After a complaint was made, the pool staff unlawfully asked her to move to the baby change room, or to a more secluded area and to cover up. Liana left the Aquatic Centre in tears. She later said that the incident had made her cry due to the embarrassment of being told in front of her children. Liana said, “Anti-discrimination laws were broken and I was left publically humiliated”.
Under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding.
Channel 7 Sunrise aired a segment about Liana Webster’s experience. After the interview one of the male presenters, David Koch made the following comment.
“I think that’s fair enough to say, hey, can you be a bit discreeter, to go up on the grass”.
Later he said. “But I don't think it's unreasonable to expect breast feeding in public is done discreetly. I think that's just a common courtesy to others”. He further stated that he supported breastfeeding, but that women should be “classy” about it.
We do not believe that any malice was intended by his opinions and have no ill will towards the presenter. In fact we realise many share his opinions. Unfortunately we believe those opinions are rooted in fear, ignorance and a general misunderstanding about the 'normalisation' of breastfeeding in public places. Over periods in history similar misunderstandings have been the root of discrimination towards people of differing race, religion, gender and sexual preference.
We do believe that Channel 7 has been negligent in not issuing a full apology for the comments that aired on their network. The comments were harmful to the rights of all in our society because they could be seen to propagate discrimination. We wonder if Channel 7 would apologise if one of their presenters expressed discriminatory views based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability?
We seek to normalise breastfeeding as it is elsewhere in the world. To date Sunrise has not addressed this issue with the sensitivity it requires. Comments spoken by their highly influential presenters that agree with discriminatory behaviour raise issues of morality in our society. People may think it’s acceptable to discriminate against a breastfeeding woman. Channel 7 are duty bound to apologise for harmful comments that agree with discriminatory behavior. After-all the discrimination at the pool was unlawful.