'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



Qantas jet diverted to Invercargill, passengers stranded on board as airport doesn't have customs officers - 'The passengers have drunk the bar dry'

A Qantas jet has had an unexpected landing in one of New Zealand's smaller regional airports.

The Boeing 737-800 - QF 121 from Sydney to Queenstown - has been stuck on the runway at Invercargill Airport.

The airport says it’s thought there was a technical problem.

“We understand it had a mechanical issue and diverted down to us”, airport chief executive Nigel Finnerty told 1 NEWS.

“We’re just in the process of offloading passengers now,” he said.

“Customs and MPI has just arrived from Queenstown and Dunedin.”

The airport does not normally have staff from these agencies so passengers have had to wait on board.

Qantas said passengers will head to Queenstown by bus.

Catering was provided to passengers while they remained on the aircraft.

The plane was affected by a wing flap setting, and it landed without incident. 

Qantas Boeing 737-800
Qantas Boeing 737-800 Source: Qantas

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Complaints pour into union from low paid staff alleging more big NZ retailers are forcing them to work unpaid overtime

A huge influx of complaints to unions from Kiwi retail workers claiming they regularly performed unpaid overtime has landed a hoard of new high-profile businesses under scrutiny.

An online survey from FIRST Union has received 1500 responses from retail workers over the last 48 hours - 30 per cent of which claim they have been required by their employer to work without pay - whether it be for a meeting, or end of shift tasks.

The union says it contacted several major brands they are investigating worker complaints about, including: The Warehouse, Briscoes, Countdown, Cotton On, Rebel Sports and Farmers.

The online survey from FIRST Union comes in the wake of a court ruling last week forcing Smiths City to back pay 15 years of unpaid morning meetings the retail workers had to attend.

And yesterday, footwear chain Hannahs admitted staff aren't paid for overtime after stores close, while Briscoes' boss doesn't know how many of his employees historically haven't been paid for the last 15 minutes of their shifts each day.

FIRST Union, who is gathering the complaints, says they are continuing to come in both in the online survey and through their 0800 number.

They say the complaints are coming in from union and non-union members in retail who allege their respective companies have been expecting, and in some instances asking verbally and in writing, employees to either stay back and work late for tasks such as cashing up or tidying up the shop, or for work-related meetings for the purposes of customer and sales training.

The complaints made to First Union - in addition to Briscoes, Hannahs and Smiths City - have also been made against other big Kiwi retailers.

FIRST Union says they have been in contact with all new retail businesses who have had complaints filed against them. 

Countdown has confirmed to 1 NEWS they were contacted by FIRST Union this morning, however Countdown say it was only to inform them a survey across a number of retail employers including Countdown had been undertaken.

"No specific complaints as to our business were provided in their note to us so we are unable to take any immediate action to looking in to any concerns," a Countdown spokesperson said.

However, the Foodstuffs cooperative that owns Pak'nSave denied they had been contacted by FIRST Union, and media spokesperson for the company Antoinette Laird reaffirmed it was their "practice is to pay staff from when they clock in until when they clock out".

The Warehouse said they are not aware of instances of staff working unpaid hours.

"We have asked the Union for details regarding the allegations being made. If our team members do have concerns and raise them with us we will investigate," Warehouse Group PM Manager Sarah Leaning said.

Cotton Group New Zealand country manager Kerry Ashford said they are now undertaking a full enquiry into their workplace policies after being contacted by FIRST Union.

"Upon being made aware of the concerns about workplace hours, a full enquiry has been launched to ensure our workplace policies are being adhered to," Ms Ashford said.

1 NEWS is also attempting to contact other businesses on First Union's list, businesses which 1 NEWS cannot yet name.

Retail, Finance and Commerce Secretary Tali Williams says the companies involved vary drastically in how widespread the problem is within their company.

"For some, it's simply a rogue issue with one supervisor or manager not being aware that they are breaking the law, for others it's a systemic issue throughout company stores nationally," Ms Williams said.

"We will work with companies to ensure employees are not asked to work without pay."

Ms Williams says companies who welcome this support from FIRST Union will see no further action, but those who don't may face legal disputes.

"Those who do not comply with the law may face legal action from our members who feel they have been short-changed," she said.

"If someone is on minimum wage it effectively means they're not only being paid below the minimum wage, but are missing out on around $800 a year, so this is a big issue for these workers."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden also confirmed they had received a 15 per cent increase in call volume since the since the court ruling on Smiths City last week.

"We will be taking the complaints which come to us in the coming days and talking to industry associations and large employers to get them to fix these practices, and where applicable, to pay any arrears owed," Mr Lumsden said.

"The Labour Inspectorate has come across these issues in the past – and it's been for a range of activities, including cleaning equipment after closing the shop, sales meetings before opening, shift hand overs, or health and safety inductions."

1 NEWS contacted many of the companies today and of those who got back emphasised that staff are paid for all their time and if system errors are found, workers will be reimbursed.

Hannahs and Briscoes. Source: rnz.co.nz