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Dyson: NZ Sign Language Bill Third Reading

New Zealand Sign Language Bill Third Reading
Ruth Dyson, Minister for Disability Issues

I move that the New Zealand Sign Language Bill be now read a third time.

I'd like to acknowledge the members of the Deaf Community who have travelled from around New Zealand to be part of this important event. This is an historic day.

The parliamentary history of this Bill began almost two years ago with its first reading on 22nd June 2004. It was referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, which reported back to the House on 18 July last year. The 2nd reading of the Bill took place on 23rd February this year and the Committee stage on 23rd March. Today we have the third and final reading of this Bill.

The purpose of this Bill is to promote and maintain the use of New Zealand Sign Language by declaring it to be an official language of New Zealand. It provides for the use of New Zealand Sign Language in legal proceedings and enables the making of regulations to set competency standards for interpretation in legal proceedings.

It sets out principles to guide government departments in the use of New Zealand Sign Language. It provides for a review of the operation of the Act three years after it comes into force.

This Bill is necessary. A lack of recognition of New Zealand Sign Language leads to serious barriers to information and services and therefore unacceptable injustices for Deaf people.

It offers improved access to information and services that hearing people take for granted. It provides acknowledgement of Deaf peoples' language and culture.
New Zealand Sign language is part of our rich cultural diversity. Around 28,000 people, of whom 7,000 are Deaf, use it.

It is a language native to our country. It has a unique linguistic structure and includes signs that express concepts from Maori culture.

Deaf people comprise a distinct and dynamic cultural group in our country. Their language is central to their culture. Language and culture go hand in hand, and by our recognition of New Zealand Sign Language we give due recognition to Deaf Culture.

The first school for Deaf children was established in 1880 in Sumner, Christchurch. Sign language was forbidden - as it was at the later schools in Titirangi, Kelston and Feilding. But the children were desperate to communicate and continued to use sign language despite the penalty.

For the next 100 years, the Language continued to be suppressed – but continued to develop. In the 1970s, overseas research began to document the linguistic features of sign languages, and increasingly, they were recognised as complete and natural languages in their own right.
From the mid 1980s, New Zealand Deaf began to assert their own language on the political stage.

Throughout the 1990s, the Deaf Association and wider community lobbied hard to have their language recognised. The New Zealand Sign Language Tutors' Association was established in 1992 and in 1995, the Auckland University of Technology established the diploma course in interpreting.

In 1993, after more than 100 years of formal suppression, New Zealand Sign Language began to be used in the Schools for the Deaf. In 1997 the first official Dictionary was published.

The passing of this Bill will mark a major reversal in the suppression of the Deaf Community's language and culture. It will be a substantial step towards achieving our vision of an inclusive society.

The principles of the Bill and related work streams will remove language barriers for Deaf people in the education, health, public broadcasting and justice sectors.
The capacity of the interpreter workforce, beginning with competency standards is being addressed.

The review of the Act will provide an opportunity for us to ensure that it is achieving its stated purpose.

I am pleased that our parliamentary processes have been made accessible to the Deaf Community throughout the passage of this Bill. It is probably the most involved that the Deaf community have ever been in any parliamentary and law making processes. I hope to see this participation continue.

I wish to thank all the interpreters for their excellent work.

The Bill is a monumental milestone for the Deaf community. By declaring New Zealand Sign Language to be an official language of New Zealand, our Parliament is acknowledging the Deaf community's presence, their rights and their equal value in our society.
In conclusion, I wish to pay tribute to the persistence and dedication of the Deaf Community. Many Deaf people have shared personal stories of being forbidden to use their natural language, of having their hands tied behind their backs and being punished for signing. They have endured years of being told that their language is inferior to spoken languages.

Yet despite that, New Zealand Sign Language has survived and continues to evolve. This language is about to be recognised as an official language of New Zealand.

Today is cause for celebration. To the Deaf community, I salute you.

Madam Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.


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