Deaf Action say removing NZSL interpreters from Parliamentary Question Time is a 'huge mistake'

  • 04/10/2018
Winston Peters at Question Time with a NZSL interpreter screening beside him.
Photo credit: Parliament TV

A decision to end New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreting of Parliamentary Question Time has been slammed by Deaf advocacy group Deaf Action.

On Thursday, the Office of the Clerk, in conjunction with advocacy and service provision organisation Deaf Aotearoa, stated in a joint media release that NZSL interpreting of oral questions at Parliament will cease immediately.

However, Deaf advocacy group Deaf Action, who were not consulted about the decision, say the move is "disappointing."

"Taking away NZSL access to the heart of NZ's government is a huge mistake. ... New Zealand's Deaf community deserves better access within government than this," Chair of Deaf Action Kim Robinson says.

Acting Clerk of the House of Representatives Suze Jones said the Office of the Clerk would like to reinstate the service in future.

"The Office of the Clerk put out an open tender to anyone who could provide the [interpreting] service at this time, but at the moment it doesn't seem possible," Ms Jones said.

Deaf Action believe the effort did not go far enough.

"There are more than three NZSL Interpreting Agencies in NZ and also numerous freelance NZSL interpreters in NZ who could do this work via remote livestreaming that fits the current Parliament TV picture-in-picture format," Mr Robinson says.

Interpreters had been offered for Question Time from May this year, as an extension of NZSL week initiatives.

Clerk of the House of Representatives David Wilson says that the joint decision to stop offering NZSL interpretation, made with Deaf Aotearoa, was in response to concerns resources were being stretched.

"The NZSL interpreters we use are highly skilled and experienced," Mr Wilson said in a joint media release.

"The pool of interpreters is very small and we've been told that having interpreters at Parliament every day that the House sits is putting a lot of pressure on the services they offer in other areas like at the doctor, in schools or when getting legal advice."

The media release states interpreters will continue to be available for Question Time during NZSL week, Budget Day statements, party leader speeches and Election Access Fund Bill processes.

Ms Jones confirmed to Newshub that Deaf Aotearoa were the only deaf representative organisation consulted in the process, and the decision came as news to Deaf Action.

"The NZ Deaf Community is asking why? wtf is going on? It shows that there has been no engagement with the community in relation to access to the value of the service or to consider alternative means of provision," Mr Robinson says.

New Zealand Sign Language is an official language of New Zealand, used regularly by over 20,000 New Zealanders.