'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

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Investigation underway after truckie films himself abusing cyclist on Dunedin road

A Dunedin company is investigating the actions of one of its employees after he filmed himself abusing a cyclist and posted it online.

The man shot a video of himself riding in the passenger seat of a truck, and can be heard urging the driver to hit the cyclist.

"Run him over Greg mate ... do it," the man says.

"Out of the way you f****** cabbage!"

The man then posted the video onto a local social media page, the Otago Daily Times reports, and another member of the page provided it to the newspaper.

A spokesperson for the trucking company, Clearwater Civil, said he is appalled.

"The video is extremely embarrassing," he told the Times.

"The allegation is viewed very seriously and there is an employment investigation under way.''

The spokesperson said he was happy to see that the driver appeared to have actually ignored his the man's words and given the cyclist plenty of room.

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Who's in the right? Takapuna home owner building a wall right over popular beachfront walkway - but it's their land

A wall being constructed along the shore in Auckland's Takapuna is dividing residents, and opinions.

The wall in question, half-finished, is situated at the edge of 19 Brett Ave, and is technically located on private property.

Boundary data for 19 Brett Ave shows that the property protrudes down on to the shoreline.
Boundary data for 19 Brett Ave shows that the property protrudes down on to the shoreline. Source: LINZ/Screenshot

However, the wall would make a well-used walkway between Takapuna and Milford Beaches unusable, which has led to outcries from residents.

Colleen Bergin told Stuff she fears she'll no longer be able to walk her dog along the coast, and other residents have also voiced concerns.

"It's one thing to over-intensify building throughout the city and it's another thing to ruin an iconic walk because of one person's demands," Ms Bergin said.

A graphic showing the location of 19 Brett Ave, in relation to the eastern coastline of Takapuna in Auckland.
A graphic showing the location of 19 Brett Ave, in relation to the eastern coastline of Takapuna in Auckland. Source: Google Maps

"Council should be bargaining with these people to preserve this walkway and make it better."

After Stuff made queries to Auckland Council about the wall, it halted construction on August 1, saying a further resource consent would be needed, which is currently being processed.

With the wall in place, walkers would be forced to go further down the rocks, which Ms Bergin said could deter walkers, or even lead to injuries.

James Hunter of Christopher Hay Construction, who is in charge of building the wall, told Stuff previously his client had gone to great lengths to make the wall aesthetically pleasing, and that most people didn't realise the pathway actually crosses private property.

Mr Hunter said the owners are overseas, and do not want to comment.

A graphic showing the location of 19 Brett Ave in Takapuna.
A graphic showing the location of 19 Brett Ave in Takapuna. Source: Google Streetview/Google Maps/1 NEWS Graphic

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern again shuts down engagement speculation

Jacinda Ardern says she is not engaged, shutting down any speculation after wearing her ring on her left ring finger. 

The Prime Minister posted a video this week to her Facebook page to discuss the issue of rising fuel prices. 

Amongst the flurry of comments discussing the price of petrol, a few inquired about the ring on Ms Ardern's finger. 

DailyMail Australia published a story headlining saying engagement rumours were sparked after the video was posted. 

However, Ms Ardern confirmed to NewsHub she is not engaged.

In December last year, Ms Ardern again quashed rumours of engagement after a Facebook Live

The Prime Minister was spotted wearing a ring on her ring finger during a Facebook live last night. Source: 1 NEWS

"I'm happy to confirm that I have eczema on my left hand which causes me to rotate where I wear my beautiful onyx ring and so no I am not engaged," she said at the time. 

jacinda ardern ring
Source: Facebook


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Revealed: Riverhead quarry rapist's previous convictions

The previous conviction for a repeat rapist who committed a violent attack in the Riverhead quarry near Auckland can now be reported for the first time.

The 60-year-old truck driver from Onehunga, Colin Jack Mitchell, was convicted of kidnapping, causing grievous bodily harm and assaulting a woman with intent to sexually violate her in March.

DNA from the quarry scene linked him to a historic rape case that had gone unsolved for 25 years. The jury found him guilty of that attack as well.

But what the jury did not know what that Mitchell had raped before.

The case had remained the subject of a suppression order until today. RNZ challenged the order in the Court of Appeal and the senior court revoked the order today.

At the age of just 15, Mitchell raped a woman in her flat. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in Mt Eden Prison.

The woman who he raped told RNZ that being in court and watching Mitchell as he was convicted for the quarry attack and another rape - his fourth - was liberating.

"I was there to honour the women - I was there 100 percent for [the victim of the quarry attack]. It was not only to honour my experience but to hear these women who were giving evidence."

She recalled giving evidence at Mitchell's first trial, over 40 years ago.

"It's an incredibly invasive process, to stand up there and transport yourself back - to go second by second through it. To be led into places on your body that are yours alone but all of a sudden you're talking to the jurors - and the media and everyone's listening."

The verdict of guilty was just the beginning for her recovery and she said she felt empty afterwards.

She said later she wrote a letter to Mitchell, asking to meet him but he refused.

"I didn't want him to say sorry. I just wanted him to see a really strong woman."

She is determined that the experience of being raped and going through the justice system does not define her.

"I've transitioned through being a victim, being a survivor. I'm me. I'm not defined by what happened."

The woman also paid tribute to her husband who has always stood by her and was also in court when Mitchell's latest guilty verdicts were handed down.

She's also proud of Mitchell's other survivors, particularly the 23-year-old woman who was abducted from Great North Road and driven 25km to the Riverhead quarry.

Asked what needs to change, the woman told RNZ, the country needed to look to the next generation and breed more "warrior women".

"And bringing up sons who are respectful in a way they conduct relationships with women."

She said it was also important to remember that there are a lot of men who have been damaged in their childhood years but do not go on to rape.

At his sentencing at the High Court in Auckland (then referred to as the Supreme Court) in 1973, Justice Henry said he would have sentenced Mitchell to preventive detention - a life sentence that would mean he would only be released once he could prove he was no longer a threat to society.

"You are only 15 years, and, of course do not qualify for that, and unfortunately also, so far as I know, there is no suitable institution to which you may be sent, and therefore you will pose a special problem, as I see it, for the Secretary of Justice …"

He said the court had to arrive at a "proper sentence to protect women folk, in particular, from this unfortunate aberration from which you suffer".

The judge said he hoped Mitchell got all the psychiatric help possible.

Mitchell went on to rape again.

One of his victims was a young prostitute who Mitchell picked up on Upper Queen Street, and drove to the railway yards in Mt Eden.

He raped and sodomised her before threatening her that if she ever told of what happened, ten of his friends would find her and do even worse.

That was in 1985. Mitchell was sentenced to a further five years in prison.

Shortly after getting out of prison Mitchell raped again but this time the crime went unsolved for 25 years.

It was only tied to Mitchell when DNA from a glove he left at the scene of the quarry attack matched the DNA of an unsolved rape in 1992.

The woman had just been to a gig at Ponsonby's iconic Glue Pot Cafe and was walking home when she was offered a lift by Mitchell.

He dropped her at an industrial area, telling her he worked nearby and then drove off.

A short while down the road a man jumped out from behind a tree and punched her in the head and face before putting her in a headlock and pulling her down a driveway to a spot behind a factory.

The woman told Mitchell's trial earlier this year that she bit him on the hand and was punched again. She told the court she thought she was going to die.

"I was terrified. I was wondering if I was going to get home or not. I was wondering if that was the day I was going to die. I was thinking about my children … I was talking about my children."

She said Mitchell demanded she kneel down and take her clothes off. He used her clothes to cover her face and then raped her.

"My mind was taking a little bit of a holiday. I was in shock. I couldn't believe this was happening to me."

She told the court she was "babbling" and tried to strike an emotional chord with her attacker in the hope he wouldn't kill her.

She told him "don't hurt me, I want to go home to see my children. I started babbling a lot about my children. He asked me how old they were."

She said he apologised before ransacking her bag, tying her up, gagging her and telling her to stay still for 20 minutes.

He threatened her, saying he knew his way around Avondale and she'd end up in a dumpster if she didn't do what he said. Then he left.

The woman said she got free from her ties, got dressed and rolled a cigarette.

"I was grateful for being alive but I was really scared, really scared that I might make a noise and he might come back."

She walked down the middle of the road before seeing a payphone and calling the police.

But the police didn't believe her. Their investigation was compromised from the beginning when they sent a male security guard to the scene - not detectives.

She was kept awake for the rest of the night, went through a medical exam and made a formal statement later that morning.

The woman said she felt stupid for having got into a car with a strange man, and because of her treatment by the police, she told them she had been picked up by a woman.

She said she felt like the police officers didn't believe she had been raped.

"I think I was pretty shell-shocked actually, the whole process was pretty revolting. It was just a bit too much."

Later she said: "They [the police] weren't very nice. They were treating me like a criminal, like I deserved it."

Under cross-examination at trial, Mitchell's lawyer Mark Ryan put it to the woman that she had met Mitchell at the Glue Pot and the sex was consensual. She replied: "Hell, no."

Under re-examination from Crown prosecutor Kirsten Lummis, the woman said when police officers approached her last year to tell her they had arrested the man who raped her, the experience was completely different.

"It was nice. It was relaxed. It was easy. I didn't feel like... I felt like a person on the right side of the law... [previously] I felt like I had done something wrong and was being brought in for questioning."

When asked by Ms Lummis how she felt when asked by Mr Ryan if she was making up her story, the woman responded "like I was back in 1992".

That rape went unsolved.

Fast-forward 25 years to the night of 26 February last year. Colin Jack Mitchell was driving through town late at night.

The gay pride festival had just finished.

In his car Mitchell had gloves, a mask and a pool cue. He found a young drunk woman walking by herself. Mitchell got her into his car and drove her to a quarry in Riverhead, north-west of Auckland.

She told the police her first memory of the incident was coming around to find she had blood on the side of her head.

Her dress was off and she could not recall how this had happened. She was lying on her side on gravel.

The woman said there was a man standing over her - it was dark but there was a light coming from behind him and she could see he was wearing a white face mask and holding a bat.

She said the man sounded strange as he began issuing demands that sounded almost robotic.

She begged him not to hurt her and told him he did not have to be this person. He made some kind of threat, telling her that she was going to get herself killed or something similar.

The woman told the police she knew what he wanted to do, but said she would rather die than let that happen.

The man then hit her in the head with the bat.

The woman described it as feeling like a burn and she believed she blacked out.

The next thing she knew, she was scrambling up a pile of gravel while on the phone to police.

The woman said she did not know where she was but followed a fenceline. She also did not know where her attacker was.

Eventually she found a building and a street sign and she was able to direct the police to where she was.

Investigators were quick to link Mitchell's car caught on security camera footage leaving the quarry at speed. Detectives didn't have a number plate but they did have what was thought to be a mobility sticker on the windscreen that narrowed the field of owners of that type of car. There was a similar car caught on security cameras cruising inner city streets, shortly before the woman was taken.

They also found a glove at the scene.

When investigators visited Mitchell's Onehunga flat, they took a toothbrush. The DNA was a match and put Mitchell at the quarry scene.

At his sentencing, Justice Fitzgerald had this to say:

"In my view, there is a clear and disturbing pattern of serious sexual offending by you, over a period of some decades. Having considered your full offending history, there is also a clear similarity between the nature of your offending, including its predatory nature, offending against strangers, seeking out vulnerable victims, associated violence, threats of further violence if instructions are not carried out, and in more recent times, removal of your victims to remote locations to prevent detection."

The 60-year-old has been sentenced to preventive detention with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years. The sentence means he cannot be released until he proves he is no longer a threat to society.

Mitchell has bladder cancer and continues to deny his offending. His refusal to take responsibility means he will not be able to take part in rehabilitation courses while inside prison - making him an unlikely candidate for parole.

Mitchell is unlikely to ever be released.

By Edward Gay

rnz.co.nz

Colin Mitchell is on trial over last year's alleged crime.
Colin Mitchell. Source: 1 NEWS