Australian PM said he would ‘upgrade highway’ in response to question about mothers having to give birth on side of road

Australia’s prime minister has been criticised for replying to a question about mothers giving birth on the side of the road by boasting of upgrades being done to the highway.

Scott Morrison was asked in parliament about some pregnant women in New South Wales having to travel an hour to get to the nearest maternity ward – with MP Alicia Payne saying “a number” have been forced to give birth on the way.

“I’m pleased to let the member know that is why we have committed $150m (£82.6m) dollars to upgrade the Barton Highway,” the Australian PM replied.

The room then erupted in laughter.

Ms Payne later tweeted: “The prime minister shows a complete lack of understanding of the risk to Yass Valley mothers and babies.”

“The only thing this government will deliver is babies on the side of the Barton Highway.”

She had asked Mr Morrison in parliament whether he agreed it was “unacceptable” women in the Yass Valley in New South Wales had to travel an hour to Canberra or Goulburn for maternity services.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has also condemned the PM for the manner of his response.

Dr John Hall, the RDAA’s president, said it was “extremely concerning” that Mr Morrision ”would turn the highly stressful and risky issue of roadside births into a joke” for parliament.

“That women have, for more than 15 years, had to travel from the town of Yass more than an hour to either Canberra or Goulburn to birth their babies adds to the risk, stress and expense for many, many families,” he said.

Mr Hall added: “Hospital and maternity closures are the responsibility of the States, but rural roadside births are no laughing matter at any level of government.”

“To joke that an upgraded highway is in any way a viable substitute for local birthing services is disgraceful.”

Chris Bowen, the shadow health secretary, called the comments “extraordinary”, adding his Labor party have said they will fund a maternity ward in Yass if they enter government.

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