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Connell’s comments on NZ Sign Language concerning

David Coates
The Labour Party, Rakaia
Mojo Mathers
The Green Party, Rakaia

1 May 2006 Joint Media Statement

Connell’s comments on NZ Sign Language ‘concerning’

Brian Connell’s comments on the NZ Sign Language (NZSL) Bill, which was recently passed in Parliament, are “concerning” says David Coates, the Labour Party spokesman for Rakaia.

“This Bill gained support in Parliament from both sides of the House. Yet while other National MPs spoke with clear empathy and understanding of the unique needs of the New Zealand deaf community, Connell’s comments stood out as they demonstrated a concerning lack of empathy and understanding of the reasons for this Bill.”

Connell questioned “why deaf people in particular have been singled out” and raised the cost of providing interpreters in court. Connell also asked why we “have to go to the bother of legislating to have someone interpreting in NZSL in our courts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”.

“Ignoring the fact that our courts do not run 24 hours a day, we have to ensure that everyone involved in legal proceedings can understand what is going on. This is a basic right of all New Zealanders and this Bill grants that right to at least 7,000 New Zealanders who use NZSL,” says Mr Coates.

Connell also said that he paid to get help for his father when he became deaf, “rather than making it a problem for the taxpayers of New Zealand”.

However Mr Coates says, “This is not an issue of personal responsibility. The New Zealand Sign Language Bill gives those who rely on NZSL the right to access interpreters in court, regardless of their financial situation. This is much more equitable than depending on affluent family members.”

Mr Connell made these statements despite the National caucus’s support of the Bill and was the only speaker in the debate to criticise the Bill to any great extent. In the past, Mr Connell has gone against his caucus on other issues, most notably over National’s West Coast forestry policy in 2005, which resulted in him falling from favour with leader Dr Brash and losing his shadow portfolios.

“Clearly, once again Connell is out of step with the National Party on an important issue for all New Zealanders,” says Mr Coates. “After all, giving everyone a fair go is what being a New Zealander is all about.”

Mojo Mathers, Green Party spokeswoman for Rakaia, who is also profoundly deaf, agreed that Connell’s comments showed a lack of understanding.

“On the day when the NZSL Bill was passed I felt very emotional. For far too long many in the deaf community have carried a stigma associated with not being able to communicate in spoken language. At times it has been difficult for many to feel accepted by the wider community.

“The NZSL bill gives both recognition and dignity to those born profoundly deaf and this achievement is something for all New Zealanders to be proud of.”

Connell questioned why NZSL is adopted and not some other sign “that can be used and understood around the rest of the globe”.

“It is obvious that the purpose of the Bill is to cater for the needs of the New Zealand deaf community, not for deaf people in other countries, which is why NZSL was chosen,” says Ms Mathers.

“There is no universal sign language. Although there are links with other sign languages, NZSL is distinct, encompassing elements of both New Zealand English and Maori.

“It includes signs that express Maori language and culture, so Maori New Zealanders who sign also have access to their language and their culture. That we have evolved our own sign language is cause for celebration.”


Further notes

On 6 April 2006, the New Zealand Sign Language Bill passed its third reading in Parliament, making New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) this country’s third official language.

NZSL will now be recognised in legal proceedings and other formal situations.

Approximately 28,000 people, an estimated 7,000 of whom are deaf, use NZSL.

In the 2001 Census, 357 people from the Rakaia Electorate said they used NZSL for everyday communication.

Comments by other MP’s on the NZSL Bill include:

National Party MP for Tamaki, Allan Peachey said, “It is not possible for an individual to function in our community and take part in our economy if they cannot communicate in formal language. Sign language is not theatre sport. It is not drama, it is not theatrics; it is a formal, structured language with grammar and expression, and it gives anybody who is using it every opportunity to express the full range of human thought. It is a language in its own right.”

National Party MP for Kaikoura, Colin King said, “I could not imagine a situation in the legal system - for example, a courtroom - where one would feel less comfortable. We want to portray and develop a society where all cultures are safe.”

The Maori Party’s Hone Harawira also supported the Bill in the debate. “I do not see the New Zealand Sign Language Bill in terms of offering something to a small group in society; I see it as offering something to the whole of society, opening us up to be more comfortable with people who speak to one another in different ways.” He noted how the Maori language has been supported and accepted since it became New Zealand’s second official language.


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