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Are we back in the 18th Century, Ministers?

9 March 2011

Are we back in the 18th Century, Ministers?

Autism New Zealand and Arie Smith- Voorkamp, the 25 year old man with Asperger’s Syndrome who through lack of understanding and awareness became the “face of looting” in Christchurch are outraged by the comments of Police Minister Judith Collins about looting in Christchurch and asks if New Zealand society and Government have 18th Century attitudes to disabled people.

The Minister was quoted in the New Zealand Herald yesterday as hoping that looters “go to jail for a long time - with a cellmate” and that looters were “people who robbed the dead.”

Alison Molloy, Chief Executive of Autism New Zealand, said that the Minister’s comments showed a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of autism, a condition which affects 40,000 New Zealanders.

She reminds the Minister that the New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline – which her Government has stated they support – outlines best practice around engagement between people with ASD and the justice system. It points out that “police, courts and criminal justice personnel need to know the implications of ASD on the behaviour of the person…and their response to criminal justice staff.”

“We are most disappointed about what this says about the Government’s overall attitude to disabled people and particularly people with Autism. If the Minister had read our press release of last week on this issue she would have been aware that her comments – especially as Minister of Police – would have been offensive in a highly complex situation. Autism New Zealand has began a very positive engagement with various Ministers of the Government of which Ms. Collins is a member. We wish to continue an engagement with Government and are happy to meet with the Minister to increase her awareness of ASD.”

“New Zealand has a Minister specifically responsible for being an advocate for disabled people – Minister Tariana Turia. Given Minister Turia’s consistent commitment to the human rights of disabled people in New Zealand, we wonder what she thinks of her colleague’s comments. And we have a question for both Ministers – do we want to go back to an 18th Century attitude to disabled people where when we look for a scapegoat or someone to blame we immediately blame the person who behaves or thinks differently?, Ms. Molloy concluded.


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