Engage Aotearoa

Show Us Your Disability Policy Election Meeting Rundown

Notes from Miriam Larsen-Barr

On October 31st I attended the Show Us Your Disability Policy election meeting at the Western Springs Community Garden Hall. I was interested in what each of the six main parties had planned for the disability sector and how that would impact mental health. I was particularly interested in their mental-health policies. Mental health is funded through the health budget these days, but it remains a disability issue and people with experience of mental health problems are protected by pieces of legislation that come from the disability field. At the same time, people experiencing any kind of disability also face greater stress and are over-represented in mental unwellness statistics. It is important that all disability strategies are undertaken with an awareness of the mental health implications for the people affected.

About 100 other people were in attendance, but in the interests of helping as many people be as informed as possible, I took detailed notes on each politician’s responses and share these notes here. I have tried to keep my own opinions out of the picture and to accurately paraphrase or in many cases quote what was actually said.

You might also like to check out this article in today’s Herald. 

And please do make sure that you are enrolled to vote!

The panel of politicians:

  • Maggie Barry, North Shore candidate for National Party
  • Sue Bradford for Mana Movement
  • Carmel Sepuloni for Labour Party
  • Jonathan McFarlane for ACT Party
  • Metiria Turei for Green Party
  • Tau Bruce Mataki for the Maori Party

The Opening Statements

Each representative was given five minutes to introduce themselves and answer three questions regarding the promotion of equal rights, employment and education for people with disabilities.

Green Party:

  • Asking two things: Party vote for Greens and Vote to Keep MMP.
  • Stand for a ‘smart, green, compassionate economy.’
  • Has three priorities:
    • Bring 100 000 children out of poverty
    • Make all of our rivers clean enough for swimming
    • Create 100 000 jobs
    • “We are committed to issues of disability… they are not minority issues…what is good for people with disabilities is good for the whole country”
    • “Barriers [to equality] are the assumptions about difference… all people in this country have the same rights and freedoms.”
    • Put in place the disability commissioner
    • Acknowledge funding inadequacies and education inequalities for people with disabilities
    • Want to introduce full time disability commissioner
    • Want to change the education act so schools can’t refuse entry to disabled children
    • Want to increase needs-based funding and amend it so that people with low and moderate needs can get help too.
    • Ran out of time…

Labour Party:

  • Acknowledges that the past three years have been difficult for people with disabilities and the organisations who help them…that the recession had a greater impact on people with disabilities and the rising cost of living.
  • Has not launched the labour disability policy yet
  • The vision is a community where disabled peoples diversity is recognised and their rights are protected.
  • Says that they endorse the motto ‘nothing about us, without us’
  • Was involved in the signing of the UN Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Is concerned about cuts that “put us on the back foot” and a lot of rebuilding needs to take place to return services that were previously supported.
  • Wants to review what has been lost and begin reinstating those things.
  • Ran out of time…

Act Party:

  • Acknowledges that they “do not have a clear, fully packaged disability policy”.
  • “Act exists to push government forward on certain issues… the economy…education…we are about economic freedom”
  • Is interested in why Act should have a disability policy and invites people to talk to him about this in the break.
  • Wants to “create more money” for special education
  • Wants to see 80% of our schools being inclusive of people with disabilities
  • Says the difference between Act and other parties is “Act wants to not just divide up the pie, but wants to make the pie bigger”
  • Says has “no intention to promise to  push wages for disabled people up to minimum wage”
  • Funding for disabled people needs to follow the individual child rather than schools.
  • Supports the return of the youth wage.

Mana Movement

  • Says is a pakeha standing for a Maori movement because she wants the treaty of Waitangi made the constitution of New Zealand, and supports the kaupapa of everyone being able to participate…no one should miss out on taking part because they aren’t rich enough.
  • Regarding legislation, they want to make the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into law and ratify the optional protocol that allows people to take their cases to the UN.
  • Wants to introduce anti-discrimination law.
  • Wants to abolish the Workers on Minimum Wage Exemption that sees 600 New Zealanders with disabilities working in sheltered workshops for $3 an hour.
  • Wants to see more done for government funding to support people with impairments to get employment
  • Wants to improve outcomes for students moving from high school
    • Greater funding for community supports
    • Government support for job creation
    • Splitting the budget differently – National keep rationing the budget, but it can be split in a way to increase funding for the people who need it most.
    • Stand against proposed welfare reforms.

Maori Party:

  • Stands for ‘the people, the people, the people’
  • Supports proper recognition of disabled people in the context of Whanau Ora. Believes in self-determination.
  • Leader of Maori Party is the current Minister for Disability Issues
  • Wants to “progress to a full-time disability commissioner”
  • Wants to advance strategies to achieve a fully inclusive society
    • Supports the Be Accessible initiative
    • Endorse Nothing About Us Without Us
    • Support for individuals (individual funding) instead of services/schools
    • Support for ‘circle of friends’ or whanau
    • Resources for respite care and accommodation funding
    • Supports a review of WINZ
    • Will investigate post-school supports

National Party:

  • Starts by saying she hasn’t been as knowledgeable as the others but has done her best to research the issues.
  • She makes a personal pledge to do her best if she gets “over the line to represent your interests”
  • Says they have put 100 million dollars into the disability sector, quoting
    • The Be Accessible initiative.
    • Giving one thousand people access to individualised funding
    • An initiative in the Bay of Plenty
    • Acknowledges “we need to do more to help with employment”
      • Supports business enterprises so that businesses are supported to employ people
      • Supports to Workers on Minimum Wage Exemption, because “the low wage exemption is only given when it is fair.”
      • Acknowledges need for accessible public transport and quotes the existing Total Mobility Scheme that allows some people access to subsidised taxis when no other public transport options are available.  Ran out of time…

Question Time

Each representative had 60 seconds to respond.

What is your policy on paid caregivers?

  • Maori Party: We believe in whanau and supporting positive families.
  • Act: We are in favour of a policy to compensate families who are caring for people
  • Greens: People who are entitled to funding should be able to choose who they want to pay that money to for support.
  • Labour: Recognises the role families play and we are concerned about ongoing court actions. Once a ruling is made the government must sit down with families to understand what funding will be needed.
  • Mana: Supports the resolution of the case and also supports pay for whanau caregivers
  • National: Government has admitted mistakes. Talks about the sleepover case, not the caregivers’ case. Audience member repeats question. Personal view is families should decide, “this is fairer”.  “I do not know the party’s policies in this regard.”

A young woman writes from a rest-home, where she is living because there is insufficient funding for 24-7 care for her to live in an age-appropriate setting. She asks, How will you resolve this?

  • National Party: Personally, thinks that this is wrong. “Our party accepts it is not the best plan but sometimes is used.” It is not ideal.
  • Mana: That is a totally unacceptable situation. There are mixed solutions, we don’t want to go back to institutions, but there still needs to be a place of sanctuary, a safe, culturally, age-appropriate space that still allows for independence and choices.
  • Labour: We are really concerned about this. We support quality living in the community and increased ability to live in the community. Housing is important, we commit to accessible housing for disabled people.
  • Greens: Agrees with Labour and Mana that people are being put into “holding pens” because there’s no budget being set aside. It is there, but it is not being given a priority.
  • Act: This is not an ideal situation. It is inhumane. Can’t comment on policy for this issue.
  • Maori Party: Whanau Ora speaks to this, we believe people should be with their families.

Will You support pay parity for people working in the disabilities sector?

  • Maori Party: Is hard work and people need to be remunerated for it. It is not good that workers in this sector are treated badly.
  • Labour: Yes we support pay parity. There is a high number of women in the sector too and accept that the wage needs to go up. Also wants to make the first $100 a week tax-free, this is specifically aimed to help people on lower incomes more.
  • Mana Movement: Is in agreement about lifting the minimum wage and pay parity in the Health and Disability Sector. Wants to see funding for providers  in respect to pay and conditions for the sections.
  • National: The health and disability sector is governed by the same rules as other employers. This is a matter for individuals and employers to work out themselves.
  • Act: Jokes about making self unpopular. Do not support increased wages. Says job losses because of the recession means it would put prices up. Wants less government involvement.

What will you do to improve the mental health of New Zealanders in the coming 3 years?

  • National: Says has put 23.5 million dollars aside for access to primary mental health services. Claims more interventions are available and that they are doubling the number of people working in Alcohol and Other Drugs and Mental Health. Acknowledges it takes “special consideration and care”
  • Mana: Committed to trying to lift mental health funding, especially for children and adolescent services. Wants to see across the board quality healthcare – “we need more resources”.
  • Labour: “Mental health is a health issue, not a disability issue.” It hasn’t been given enough priority for DHBs and needs to be restored as a priority for DHBs to improve services.
  • Greens: Has had a policy for a number of years, acknowledges Sue Bradford’s work in developing this. The priority is child and adolescent mental health and other factors that impinge and make it harder, like being able to access a warm dry home, employment, jobs and equality in the community.
  • Act: Has no clear policy “we encourage and promote choice, and encourage competition between services”
  • Maori Party: This is a growing problem, a challenge to the nation, we will be having discussions to improve services.

Would you support a Sign Language Commission to support access to sign as an official language of New Zealand?

  • Labour: We have had conversations with TV stations about captioning. Is disappointed with cuts to signing resources and interpreters. Points out that cuts to adult community education has reduced community access to sign classes. Would reinstate adult community education. Would continue captioning conversations.
  • Mana: Was there to celebrate the Sign Language Bill being passed but it needs to be given more support. Wants to see it being treated similar to the Maori Language Commission with enough teachers so there is more access to sign. Would champion the cause.
  • National: It is now our third official language. National added signers to the RWC anthems and the earthquake announcements.
  • Act: We need to have another look at the Sign Language Bill and better understand it. When it passed Act thought it was unclear and open-ended.
  • Maori Party: I don’t understand why it isn’t there and it should be.
  • Greens: Our proposed an independent disability commission would take of that. Green party has a deaf MP and if get enough votes will get the first deaf MP into parliament.

A triple-whammy: How will your party support 20 hours of early childhood education for children with disabilities?  Why is my son’s special education unit closing when it is working so well? How will your party support people with disabilities who want to do tertiary education? Representatives had 90 seconds to respond to these three related questions

  • Maori Party: I don’t know why they are closing these special education units or what is going to be in their place.
  • Act Party: We support choice. Choice helps people.
  • Greens: Yes to 20 hours of funding for early childhood education, but people with disabilities need extra support. Wants to see funding following children all their lives to tertiary education. Units should be in schools and also do not now why it is closing down, funding is difficult and there has been no extra funding for these things.
  • Labour: Introduced the 20 free hours scheme and all children should have access to this. Are disappointed in the cuts to the sector and support the special education units. Acknowledges cuts to occupational therapy and physical therapy services, all have been losing staff. The cuts to the training incentive allowance were unacceptable and this needs to be restored.
  • Mana Party: Supports restoration of training incentive scheme. Childhood centres need to be created as well as the 20 hours. We shouldn’t be closing these units, we should be creating more.
  • National: We haven’t made cuts. We give 38% more funding, it Is going to Kohanga and pacific early childhood services. Cuts are to create efficiency. We are increasing the work-force. There are a range of supports. Our tertiary strategy is to increase students with impairments that are doing tertiary education. We are announcing our strategy next week.

As a blind person I can take someone with me to vote and tick the box for me and then ask someone else to check that they responded as I wished, this is good but it means my vote is not private or independently cast. How will parties enable us to cast our votes independently and secretly?

  • Maori Party: We would establish a national advocacy service
  • Act: This is a human rights issue, you ought to be allowed to vote yourself, I don’t know all the ins and outs but it needs to be provided in Braille.
  • Greens; We support measure to make it accessible in Braille or using technology. It’s about putting resources into it. This restriction undermines your human rights.
  • Labour: We support putting into Braille and would be happy to consult and be advised.
  • Mana: We have no specific policy but Mana are happy to work with people to resolve this.
  • National: This is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of the election commission. You can vote by post with assistance from someone else and you can request to take your ballot away and fill it out at home with assistance from someone else.

Summaries

  • Greens: One of the issues in the changes to sickness and invalids benefits, work testing people with disabilities is inhumane and must not occur. The worst is the welfare reforms that undermine human rights. Reminds to vote party vote for greens and to keep MMP.
  • Labour: These forums are about accountability. Mentions it would have been good to see Minister for Disability Issues representing for the Maori Party and a National MP rather than a candidate.
  • Mana Movement: Notes the difficulty of living with a disability. Worries about everyone’s beautiful words and encourages the audience to follow up with the MPs who make it to parliament so they don’t forget or lose sight of what they have said here.
  • National: Feel free to chase me down. I am committed to the UN Convention. Hold us accountable. Next week’s announcement deals with disability.
  • Act: Hopefully you understand more about Act, please do come and talk to me, I do want to hear from you.
  • Maori Party: Applaud your presence, I’m sure the minister will be so pleased that you make this challenge to your politicians.

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