Archive for February, 2012

In the frame of equal rights, democracy, behind food and medical care, is regarded as one of the most easily justifiable positive rights to assistance people have. States should be willing to spend extra money to fund bilingual, disability, or other accessibility issues in their debating chambers and election systems, not just for MPs that might benefit, but also for the participation of journalists and spectators over TV and the internet.

In a disgraceful move, Lockwood Smith is claiming that support for electronic note taking must be paid for out of Mojo Mathers’ own budget, which would cripple her ability to get the type of office support for her schedule and research that other MPs pay for using their budgets. This technology is essentially required for a deaf MP to realistically follow proceedings in the debating chamber and be an effective representative, but apparently it is not a serious disability issue, and publicising it despite warning the speaker they would do so “shows their* inexperience”. There may be additional process to go through to get these sorts of issues settled, (such as the parliamentary services committee) but the appropriate thing to do then is to expedite those processes, not to outright deny and delay support.

Naturally, not only the Greens, but also the Deaf and hearing-impaired community and the Labour Party are hitting back hard on this issue. This could have been an opportunity for parliament to further embrace the diversity started with the inclusion and translation/interpretation of Te Reo and provide real-time captioning in the debating chamber, acknowledging NZSL’s equal status to English and Mäori as an official language, which would naturally eliminate Mojo’s need to pay for a staff member to take notes for her. With a little additional technology work, live captioning could also result in a live-updated transcription of the debate, enhancing the ability of journalists and the hearing community to quote or use excerpts from the debate in their work or their own political debates.

What’s more, the Speaker is likely in breach of the law by refusing to find some sort of accommodation. The relevant sections of the New Zealand Sign Language Act are:

§9.1.b-c: NZSL should be used in the promotion to the public of
government services and in the provision of information
to the public:
government services and information should be made
accessible to the Deaf community through the use of
appropriate means (including the use of NZSL).

It may be reasonable that the Green Party or Mojo pay some amount of the expense of note-taking until a more permanent solution (hopefully live captioning) can be provided, as long as the expense does not adversely effect the Party or Mojo Mathers’ ability to be effective in the House. But given that the government was notified of Mojo’s requirements as soon as the Green Party knew she was elected, it seems highly unreasonable and smacks of privilege that the government has not yet come up with any ideas better than “Deaf MPs can use up their support budgets for captioning”, and is still dithering about who is responsible. If the Speaker was not responsible, he should have forwarded the matter to the appropriate person or department.

edit: I should clarify that what is being refused is a person to operate this technology so that Mojo can concentrate on the debate, which is a perfectly reasonable request given the interpretation the House already does for Maori on ParliamentTV.

 

*The Speaker was referring to both Mojo Mathers and Gareth Hughes, second term MP and the new Green Party musterer  which is the equivalent to being a party whip- or for those who don’t follow this stuff too much, he’s responsible for making sure all of his party’s votes are available to be cast.

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Actually, that’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter. If you’re single and stressed about tomorrow/today, I suggest you take the same approach.

 

update: In case you’re interested, I had a great day and I even got let off work early too. 🙂

Submit!

Posted: February 13, 2012 in civil rights, democracy

It’s that time again- there’s an independent commission preparing to review MMP, seeing we voted to retain it, and their submission process is now open. You can make a five-minute submission online if you like, or you can do a full submission answering any of the issues individually and in detail, and if you want to give your submission more weight and travel to Wellington is convenient for you, you can also choose to appear in-person before the commission to answer any questions they have about what you say. I’ve already made mine, and it took me thirty minutes to do it in detail, and in language anyone can easily understand that was still very specific.

Don’t worry if you’re not an expert on voting or legal issues, if there’s something that stands out as good about our current system, or unfair, you can have a say on any of the issues under review.

There’s already a theme from the visible submissions, and to my great pleasure, it’s that almost everyone wants the party vote threshold significantly reduced. Most submissions are in favour of either eliminating the threshold altogether, or (like mine) reducing it to winning a single seat outright, with a few in favour of a small reduction in the threshold in the neighbourhood of 2-4%. The threshold is one of the worst parts of our current system, and it contributes to all sorts of problems people have with it- from the disparity of ACT and New Zealand First’s seats in the previous parliament, to encouraging small parties to run for electorates instead of growing their party vote, risking overhang seats.

I’ve also weighed in that, at the very least, parties need to submit their lists to their own members for a vote. Mandating this is an easy and cost-effective way of giving some accountability to party lists, and it still allows parties the flexibility to adjust lists if they’re okay with publishing the differences, and it allows them to choose how to conduct the vote, what electoral system to use, and is basically the most hands-off and proportional way of making list MPs accountable. I hope other submissions will also include increased public input on party lists as their means of holding List MPs accountable.

We’re incredibly lucky that we live in a country that since 1990 has had a strong tradition of electoral review, public consultation, and independent commissions largely deciding the nature of our electoral system. (with a few sneaky tweaks from Labour and National, like the fact we have a 5% threshold and not a 4% one) We should continue this tradition in other areas, such as MPs pay, electoral finance rules, fixing the election date, and the eventual transition to a republic. But in the meantime, you can give a mandate to these independent reviews by submitting.