'We are silent' - politics littered with challenges for deaf/hard of hearing, new Bill aimed at breaking down barriers passes first hurdle

Navigating the political sphere is fraught with challenges for some people with disabilities.

Now, new measures in parliament are attempting to help break down some of the barriers individuals face when trying to engage with politics, keep up with the latest developments and gain their own space in the conversation. 

Today Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's Election Access Fund Bill, handed down by former MP Mojo Mathers, was introduced into parliament, aiming to establish funding for political candidates with disabilities which would go to covering "disability-related costs of standing in a general election, by not-for-profit bodies to cover costs of making election education events and materials accessible, and by registered political parties to support access needs of any members to allow them to participate within the party". 

"This is a pretty succinct piece of legislation, but it has the power to be transformative," Ms Swarbrick said. 

It passed its first reading, voted with unanimous support across parliament. 

Last week, parliament gave sign language a place next to the Prime Minister, ensuring an interpreter would be present at official announcements and during question time. 

The new move which will give deaf people access to what the PM is saying started this week. Source: Seven Sharp

Interpreter Alan Wendt now has a permanent position in Jacinda Ardern's post-Cabinet press conferences.

Chairperson Kim Robinson spoke to 1 NEWS using an interpreter about the limitations some people face. Source: 1 NEWS

Chairperson of Deaf Action NZ Kim Robinson told 1 NEWS people who are deaf/hard of hearing have missed out on a lot in the political sphere, and wants access to extend to other political areas. 

"The barriers we face is a lack of access to information. We want to be able to have it at the right time, not delayed, so we can make the right decision and feel confident in our voting decision.

"We want to know we've got the full facts like everyone else, before we make that all important tick in the box. We don't want to be wondering if we've got half the story. Information has to be timely, otherwise you might as well tick the box with your eyes closed, because you've got no clue who the heck you're voting for."

When asked what issues the deaf/hard of hearing community have had with political announcements, Mr Robinson said: "Every time a Minister, Member of Parliament or a Government official makes a 'public' announcement, deaf viewers tend to only get none or part of the information if it's not NZSL interpreted. Captioning in English isn't a replacement substitute to an official language that's unique to over 20,000 users. By the time the full message gets to a deaf person, the topic tends to 'finished' or 'decided' before any opinion that also impacts a Deaf person is given."

"Often only part of the information makes it to the news and we become reliant on people’s interpretations of the announcement rather than being able to make our own judgment based on the information directly given by the speakers. This can fuel the risk of second hand information or an opinion of one person who relayed the information which can influence an outcome. By having access to real time NZSL interpreters, deaf can be fully inclusive with up to date information.

"Traditionally this lack of access meant that we were unable to be informed fully which impacted our ability to make good decisions on election day."

He said it also meant the lack of access impinged on the way deaf/hard of hearing people could raise their concerns during election time, "which means the government of the day are not acting in our interest".

"We are silent."

Mr Robinson previously ran in a DHB election. He was challenged with having to get a NZSL interpreter from Wellington, for meetings in the South Island. 

"Several times I was left without an interpreter. I had to struggle and be dependent on people to write down what is being said. Candidates with disabilities also share similar struggles in terms of accessible venues which tend to be upstairs with no lifts." 

"New Zealand elections must be fully accessible to all voters.  A number of deaf/hard of hearing people do not vote because we miss the information being shared."

Deaf Action NZ secretary Rachel Noble said she had to personally cover an interpreter for a local election. 

"The other deaf person present and I were astounded to see how much we learnt by following the interpreter. We learnt about the candidates personal back stories, we observed their body language, speaking styles and so much more than what we would have seen on their flyers and in news articles.

"I changed my mind on who I was prepared to vote for as result of this access," Ms Noble said. 

Chloe Swarbrick's Bill

The Election Funding Bill states its purpose is to "establish a fund designed to remove or reduce barriers to standing as a candidate in a general election or otherwise participating in a general election faced by individuals as a consequence of their disability and which non-disabled individuals do not face".

When asked if Chloe Swarbrick's Bill extended far enough, Mr Robinson said it focuses on general elections, covering the broader disability sector.

"Navigating through the process with access to venues, information, etc is double the work of a candidate without a disability. This bill will reduce the 'navigating' required and make it more attractive to stand as a candidate."

However, Deaf Action NZ are advocating to further access to local body election and political party/advocacy participation in the community, and to include Te Reo Maori interpreters. 

"The government has a duty, to make sure that here, especially around electoral times, there is absolute access for everyone. It gives the individual or the party freedom to be able to lobby, or to focus on what they're there for, to get votes or represent." 

"There's all these policies and rules, people making these decisions in different areas, but there's no access. How can we improve the access for everyone so we can all have an equal say?"

Barrier-free election 2020

Mr Robinson said funding to provide people with the means to learn sign language and to learn how to be an interpreter is needed, but the attempt to make the political process fully accessible feels like "an ongoing battle". 

For the 2020 election, Mr Robinson says interpreters should be at candidate gatherings, political and candidate messages in NZSL, NZSL interpreters in electoral debates and there should be opportunity to discuss with candidates/parties deaf specific issues.

The MPs battle out the biggest topics of the week. Source: 1 NEWS


Family history much more likely than diet to cause gout - research

Gout is much more likely to be brought on by genetics than a poor diet which has long been thought of as the primary cause of the joint disease, new research suggests.

Gout can can cause extreme pain and swelling but scientists at Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, say people with the condition can be reluctant to get treatment because of the social stigma associated with having a poor diet.

The study, which was carried out here in New Zealand by a research team at the University of Otago, counters "these harmful but well-established views and practices, and provides an opportunity to address these serious barriers to reducing the burden of this common and easily treatable condition".

The Press Association reports researchers used data from more than 16,000 American men and women of European ancestry to reach its conclusions.

Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, which can form crystals that collect around joints.

Consuming beer, wine, spirits, potatoes and meat can raise the risk of getting gout while cheese, eggs, peanuts and brown bread can lower it.

However, each of these foods or drinks is responsible for less than a one per cent variation in levels of the acid, the study found.

And a comparison of healthy and unhealthy diets showed there was only a 0.3 per cent variation in levels of the acid.

But almost a quarter of the variation could be explained by genetic factors.

Gout is most common in men 40 or older.

Long-held theories gout only affected old men with poor diets could be quashed. Source: 1 NEWS


Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol to be mandatory in New Zealand

Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol will become mandatory in New Zealand under a decision made at the Australia New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in Adelaide.

Minister for Food Safety Damien O’Connor says mandatory labelling will strengthen the Government’s work to change drinking behaviour among pregnant women.

“Hundreds of babies a year are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because of exposure to alcohol in the womb. We need to take every action to reduce this harm,” Mr O’Connor said.

While the alcohol industry has been voluntarily including warnings on some products for the past six years there is no consistency in the type, colour, size and design, reducing the effectiveness of the message, he said.

There has been strong and sound support from a range of groups calling for mandatory labelling, the Minister said.

The move brings New Zealand in line with other countries that legally require pregnancy warning labels on alcohol such as the US and France.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the bi-national food standards setting agency, will now develop an appropriate standard to bring back to the ministerial forum for approval.

Pregnant woman drinking


Exclusive: Nearly half a million Kiwis owe social development ministry $1.5 billion for loans

The Government agency in charge of taking care of New Zealand's most vulnerable is putting hundreds of thousands of people into debt.

The Ministry of Social Development has handed out $1.5 billion in loans, interest free, to 509,571 people for things like dentistry, school supplies and housing.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said a large amount of that money is over payments, "and then it's also hardship and then it's also fraud".

This comes as the Government cracks down on loan sharks.

Social agencies argue Work and Income is no better, given benefits remain too low to cover the basics.

"They end up having to repay money every week which means they can't afford to eat or meet their weekly costs, pushing them into shark loans," said Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty.

1 NEWS spoke to an Auckland mother of three who is struggling to make ends meet. She gets $589 on the benefit.

"I'm lucky enough if I can live week to week on what I receive, especially being in emergency housing," she said.

So when her car broke down she asked Work and Income for a loan, and again when she needed to go to the dentist.

She's also been able to borrow money from the state to secure housing and furniture.

"I owe over $23,000," she said.

The woman was expected to pay back $80 a week on her loan.

National says it would consider changing the law to wipe the debt.

"That's a policy that we'll be having a look at and exploring over the next period of time," Louise Upston, National's Social Development spokesperson said. 

Ms Sepuloni says her advisory group charged with looking at the welfare system will investigate debt.

But she stands by the decision to hand out loans.

"Access to a washing machine or a fridge are things that people may need to pay back," she said.

"And I think they're really important measures to have in place through MSD because you can actually get that type of advance for those things in a way where you're not paying huge amounts of interest on top of that."

The Auckland mother of three would like a pay rise. 

"Poverty is real in New Zealand, government just doesn't see it, " she said.

She's hoping to have her debt cleared too. 

But the minister says unless there's been a mistake, like an overpayment, she and others will be expected to pay the money back.

The Ministry of Social Development has handed out $1.5 billion in loans to half a million people to pay for the likes of the dentist and a house to live. Source: 1 NEWS

Hawke's Bay growing giant emphasising flexible schedules to increase Kiwi staff numbers

The Government is urging growers to look for labour in their own backyards and one growing giant in Hawke's Bay believes with the right approach, it's easily done.

Solo mother of three Dani Gibson was on the benefit for six years before she found a job that suited her.

She told 1 NEWS it was impossible to find work which fit in with her kids' lives before working at growing giant Turners and Growers.

Ms Gibson is one of 204 workers that have been working at Turners and Growers in the last year after coming from the Ministry of Social Development.

It comes as part of a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme - a policy allowing horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there aren't enough local workers.

Turners and Growers labour market manager Maurice Wilson told 1 NEWS, "In the past, we wouldn't have, but now we really cater to the needs of the individuals because we realise without people, we can't grow our business."

The company now emphasises flexible work hours and employee benefits like healthcare, which Ms Gibson says provides much-needed reassurance for her and her family.

"It feels good knowing that your kids are fine and that you've got a good job behind you as well that understand that," she said.

At peak season, 70 per cent of Turners and Growers' seasonal workforce is from MSD and locals - an example that the Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni wants others to set as well.

Ms Sepuloni told 1 NEWS during her visit to Hawke's Bay that the programme was about "making sure we are looking at our domestic labour market first and how we can ensure that we are giving New Zealanders jobs and that those jobs work for them in terms of the terms and conditions".

However, there are concerns that there will still be a working shortfall even with more locals added to the workforce.

Around 11,000 seasonal workers are brought into New Zealand through the RSE scheme annually, but the industry says with dropping unemployment and one million apple trees being planted every year, that number will have to increase to keep up.

Apples and Pears NZ's Alan Pollard believes the increase is inevitable.

"We only have a defined harvest window so the fruit has to come off at that time so more fruit means more people needed to pick the fruit," Mr Pollard said.

The sector is aiming to be worth $10 billion by 2020, but Ms Sepuloni hopes the growth can benefit unemployed New Zealanders.

"There are still people that are seeking work and we need to work with them to make sure they are able to take up these jobs," Ms Sepuloni said.

In the last year, Turners and Growers in Hawke’s Bay have employed 204 workers from the Ministry of Social Development’s books. Source: 1 NEWS