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Speaker defends deaf MP funding decision

Published: 1:19PM Tuesday February 14, 2012 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

The Green Party should look at other options to help fund a parliamentary note-taker for deaf MP Mojo Mathers, says Speaker Lockwood Smith.

The party said today Smith declined its request for Parliamentary Services to provide extra funding needed for Mathers to follow the House's debates and proceedings.

The Greens said they were told they would have to pay the estimated $20,000 to $30,000 a year out of its own budget for support staff to sit in and type up notes for Mathers in the House.

But Smith said tonight the Greens have other alternatives.

He said members of Parliament receive a support allowance for about 80 hours a week to help with their campaign and constituency work.

Not all MPs need the same support as others and traditional practice is that parties share their allocated 80 hours.

"And so members give support hours within their party to other members who have greater need for support," Smith told TV ONE's Close Up.

"We should do that first before we go to the taxpayer for more money."

Smith said Parliamentary Services has put a lot of resources into finding the appropriate technological equipment for Mathers to be able to participate in the House.

He said he was even looking having software rewritten to make the House computers more compatible with the note-taking technology.

He said he will discuss extra funding with the Parliamentary Services Committee next month, and if it is approved, he will ask the Government for more funding.

"I can't under the law simply say forget about that, we'll just put a bit of money in from here or there," Smith said.

'Decision discriminatory'

Mathers, who entered Parliament after November's election as New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP, says the decision is discriminatory.

"No other Member of Parliament is expected to fund their participation in the debating chamber," she told Close Up.

Mathers said she was told her case is not comparable to the services Parliament pays for around translation of Maori proceedings in the House.

She said it sets a dangerous precedent for disability issues across the country.

"It would mean that every elected MP with a disability or a hearing impairment would then expect to be funded for their participation in the House by their party," Mathers said.

"It would act as a huge disincentive to run disabled candidates highly on their list and that's just not on."

Mathers said the Green Party should not have to use its members' allowances to help her.

"That money for the note-taking should not be coming out of that support budget because that is what every Member of Parliament has in order to do their work outside of the House."

'Equal right'

Prime Minister John Key said everyone has an equal right to be able to communicate and do their job properly.

"We'd certainly have a look at that bid," Key said.

The decision outraged the deaf community.

"It is clearly a breach on so many levels, not only on the United Nations Charter on the Rights of People with Disabilities, but also I find it offensive as a kiwi," said Louise Carroll, chief  executive officer of The National Foundation for the Deaf.

Sign-language interpreters will translate Mathers' first speech in the House tomorrow.

Sign language is New Zealand's third official language.

Do you agree with the decision? Have your say on the messageboard below.

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  • Hippynz said on 2012-02-15 @ 17:35 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Money is given to those wanting to speak Maori in the house, so it should be for deaf as well. Sign language is a legal language that has to be catered for under the law. There is also laws under the disibility angle as well. So this issue is covered from 2 directions, both make it a legal obligation for the government to proveide the services. What next, WINZ telling deaf clients they have to pay for a translator to have an interview in a WINZ office to get a benefit?

  • ramage said on 2012-02-14 @ 22:02 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Lockwood Smith you are an absolute disgrace and scrooge.How out of touch you are move on leave Parliament as you have passed your used by date.

  • Heathersfeathers said on 2012-02-14 @ 20:42 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I think it is appalling that she has to pay for this service herself.Do people using wheelchairs or pushchairs or mobility scooters have to pay to have ramps put in public places? No they are provided for them.If she was blind would she still have to pay for it herself.It is ridiculous.She did not choose to be deaf and why should this mean she should not be able to be in parliament.This is prejudice against deaf people

  • yukarihigurashi said on 2012-02-14 @ 19:36 NZDT: Report abusive post

    She is a list MP selected by party, party should pay for it.

  • eurekatv said on 2012-02-14 @ 19:22 NZDT: Report abusive post

    MOJO needed in da house '... it's wrong and without doubt breaks every rule on discriminating against people with disabilities not to give Mojo assistance with interpreting MP's ramblings in the house. Then again being deaf inside Parliament would for many be considered an advantage - I jest and in no way am I belittling her stance which is completely justified. I must point out though that as yet no-one has successfully translated the rubbish that Hone Harwira speaks ... hold on ... I'm being told it is just that - Rubbish when translated into any language !