Ruataniwha wrangling to continue?

Conservation groups are celebrating the Supreme Court ruling that the Conservation Minister’s attempt to swap protected conservation land for farmland to make way for the Ruataniwha dam reservoir was not legally allowed, but the Government is threatening to change the law.  That hasn’t gone down well.

RNZ:  Ruataniwha dam: law-change plan branded arrogant

The government is arrogant if it thinks it can change the law to push through the Ruataniwha dam project, the Labour Party says.

Environment Minister Maggie Barry said the government would now consider legislating to ensure such land swaps could go ahead.

She said the government had long believed that under the conservation act it was allowed to swap a low value piece of conservation land for a piece of land with higher conservation values.

Labour’s Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said the conservation land being swapped for the irrigation scheme was not low quality.

“It’s a beautiful pristine area, looking down the valley, so giving that up for another piece of land … everybody knows it’s really swapping land so this dam could go ahead.”

Ms Whaitiri said it would be arrogant for the government to legislate to overturn the court’s ruling.

Green Party conservation spokesperson Mojo Mathers said the government wanted to destroy protected conservation land for its private developer mates.

She said it should just respect the court’s decision.

Threatening to legislate away a Supreme Court ruling does seem like arrogance – not a good thing to show in an election campaign.

Flooding conservation land to enable increased farm production is highly questionable with or without enabling legislation given clear signs production has reached unsustainable levels and natural waterways have been badly damaged as a result.

Green reshuffle

greenreshuffle

With the exit of Kevin Hague from parliament the Green party has reshuffled their spokesperson roles.

The most notable are a shift to Finance responsibilities for James Shaw – it was a surprise he didn’t get that when he became co-leader next year – and Julie Anne Genter moving to pick up  Health.

Newcomer Barry Coates moves from leading anti-TPPA protests to leading anti-TPPA protests as an MP.

Green Party announces portfolio changes
James Shaw MP on Thursday, September 29, 2016 – 17:14

The Green Party is today announcing changes to its MPs’ portfolios, to accommodate the arrival of new MP Barry Coates.

Mr Coates joins the Green Parliamentary team following the resignation of Kevin Hague, and will officially start on Monday 10 October. He will take on the trade, overseas development and senior citizens portfolios, as well as commerce, consumer and internal affairs.

Also as part of the portfolio changes, James Shaw will take on the finance portfolio, while Julie Anne Genter picks up health and Auckland issues, to go alongside transport and associate finance.

Canterbury-based MP Mojo Mathers will be the new conservation spokesperson, while continuing to hold the disability issues and animal welfare portfolios.

Hagues roles were: Spokesperson for Health (inc. ACC, Sport & Recreation), Conservation, and Rainbow Issues

Health goes to Genter (with her Finance moving to Shaw) and Conservation to Mathers. No mention of what is happening to Rainbow Issues.

 

Has Metiria lost the Green mojo?

Metiria Turei seems to have been quiet lately, which is odd considering Russel Norman is stepping down as Green co-leader.

The Greens may still have Mojo Mathers but have they lost their mojo?

TureiLostMojoTurei has been dabbling away on Facebook over the past couple of weeks, but it’s hardly high profile stuff, unless dogs are the new Green issue:

22 March – Rupert, a jack russel foxy cross is missing from Bethunes Gully, NEV, Dunedin. Please keep a look out if you are up that way.

24 March – Rupert is home, thank you everyone who shared the notice. Mx

25 March – Love it, another dog found and in the paper. The ODT totally rules!

26 March – Dog question. I want to teach my dog to do some dance moves. He will spin around with a treat incentive so we have got a twirl underway. But any other advice on teaching dog boogie?

2 April – Missing dog from Musselburgh.

Other than that she has posted about limes, roses, economic inequality, granny squares, the TPPA and a missing woman. And Winston Peters:

Waatea News: Greens keen to work with Peters

Greens co–leader Metiria Turei is looking forward to working with new Northland MP Winston Peters on issues they agree on.

“We know Winston will do what is in Winston’s best interest and sometimes it means working with us and sometimes not. Frankly I can live that. I understand better now how he operates and I don’t think there are any serious problems between New Zealand First and the Greens,”

Overshadowed by the Winston show, trying to pick up some crumbs from it.

Metiria Turei says Winston Peters’ Northland win should have shown national what happens when it stops listening to people.

Greens didn’t stand a candidate in Northland.

Apart from her dog duties what has Turei been up to? She has had a low profile in Parliament. Her last speech was :

Her last question in question time was:

That was Tuesday two weeks ago. Since then the Green questions have been:

So Turei had one question on the first sitting day of the last two weeks and none since, while Norman has asked three questions, the Greens twelve in total. Parliament is now in recess for three weeks.

A resurgent Winston Peters is a real threat to Green aspirations. With Norman deciding to step down and put more emphasis on his family life (understandably) the Greens need to fill a leadership vacuum, especially if Turei has lost enthusiasm and commitment as well.

She didn’t seem very enthusiastic here:

Bill English closed that question session with:

Why the Greens support that poverty inducing policy is beyond me.

How demoralising was that barb? Does Turei represent the lost mojo of theGreens?

Mojo’s Masterton interview

There was some controversy last week over Grren MP Mojo Mathers and her trip to Masterton. Someone initiated a story about it for the Herald on Sunday and Jordan Williams of Taxpayers’ Union was quoted with some unwise comments that he later regretted making.

The trip included a radio interview. Mojo just posted a link to a podcast and a transcript at Frogblog. To give it wider coverage I’ll repeat it here.

It provides a good insight into Mojo becoming an MP and the work she does,

Podcast here.

Transcript of interview between Arrow FM ‘Wheels on Fire’ hosts Matt & Vanessa and Mojo Mathers (MM)

Matt: And Vanessa’s here, unfortunately Corrine isn’t with us today, which is a bit of a bummer because we have a really special guest here in the studio with us. I’d like to introduce Christchurch East MP Mojo Mathers who’s here to talk to us about becoming an MP and the experience of that, and I’m sure it will be a really awesome show. So welcome in, Mojo, and thank you so much for joining us because you’ve come all the way over from Wellington this morning, so thank you for making the huge effort.

MM: Hi Mark, thanks for inviting me, I’m pleased to be here. I’ve actually flown up from Christchurch this morning and then driven up from Wellington.

Matt: Oh you’re kidding, oh wow! I didn’t realize that, that’s even more of an effort, far out. Anyway, Mojo can you just give us a little bit of background about yourself maybe to start off, for the listeners?

MM: Sure, I’d be very happy to. I was born profoundly deaf as the result of a difficult labour, my mother had a very difficult labour with me. But she was not aware that my hearing had been impacted upon, so it wasn’t picked up until I was two and a half when the kindergarten teachers said to my mother: do you realize that your daughter cannot hear, and that is why she’s not speaking yet? And so at that point I was fitted out with hearing aides, and these days they were big boxes that you wore strapped onto a harness.

Matt: Yeah absolutely, I remember those.

MM: Yeah, really cumbersome.

Matt: Hideous things.

MM: Yeah. So I absolutely hated them to tell the truth, and it took a bit of convincing to get me to wear them.

Matt: Absolutely. So you’ve always been deaf?

MM: So yeah, always been deaf. And growing up I was told that I would never be able to wear ear levels behind the hearing aide, and I was very upset by that. But fortunately technology progressed and eventually as a teenager I was able to have ear levels. I can’t tell you how happy I was for that.

Matt: Yeah, what a difference that must have made. I mean technology must have been a huge part for you right throughout your life, to help you function as an individual.

MM: Oh absolutely. And there was another major breakthrough when email became standardized so that you didn’t have to rely on the telephone, which I’ve never really been able to use until very recently.

Matt: I know we’ve had a fair few emails flying backwards and forwards between us. So thank you for tolerating those as well while we’ve been trying to organise the interview today, it’s been an awesome process for me and I was just absolutely blown away that you even said yes, so there you go. So can you tell us a little bit about where you came from originally, and how you came to be settled in Christchurch?

MM: Yes. I was born in England, but my family came to New Zealand when I was 14. We first settled in Hawkes Bay and I went to Karamu High School, and there was a deaf unit there. I was actually mainstreamed but I went to the deaf unit for speech therapy lessons because at that point in time it was still quite hard for people to understand me. So we did a lot, many, many hours of speech therapy to get me to articulate the sounds that I can’t hear in speech, which includes a lot of the consonants like t and f and so on, and these sounds I can’t hear so I had to be shown how to make them, and then practice and practice. And when I was 18 I shifted to Christchurch to go to Canterbury University, and I started off doing mathematics, then I did a mathematics Honours degree, but then I shifted over to do conservation ecology at the School of Forestry and I did a Master’s degree there. So that’s eventually how I got involved with politics, because of my passion for environmental issues.

Matt: That was my next question, so what led you into politics?

MM: Well, I was probably very unaware of politics for most of my life until my family and I with small children moved out to the country, to a rural area. That was in Canterbury, and there was a proposal for a massive dam right beside the village that was going to flood a valley with a very special QE II reserve on it, of very special ecological value. And so I joined a group called the Dam Action Group, and we decided to try and fight this dam, and eventually actually we were successful in that the dam did not go ahead, although the irrigation proposal is still going ahead. But they’re protecting the valley and the five generations of farmers who have farmed in that valley, and it was a real win for us.

Matt: Absolutely. What sort of obstacles have you found since become an MP? Were there any sort of obstacles that could have stopped you becoming an MP, because of your disability or-?

MM: Well, I mean, when I became an MP of course there was a big public debate around the funding of the electronic note takers that I need in order to be able to follow the debate in the debating chamber and to participate in the Select Committees. And so I’m not sure if you’re aware how that works, but basically what it means is that I have a laptop in front of me in the debating chamber, and in another room outside, away, people are listening to the debate in Parliament, and they’re typing into their computer, with software, and they’re transcribing what is being said and that comes up on a screen in front of me in the debating chamber. So without that I couldn’t participate because it’s just not possible to lip-read people across a large distance, and so that’s been absolutely vital in order to participate. But initially there was quite some debate around how they would be funded, and I argued very strongly that this should come out of the general Parliamentary Services budget, because this was a service to Members of Parliament to do their work, just in the same way as there is a multi-million dollar sound system for the hearing Members of Parliament to follow the debate there that I can’t access. And just in the same way that there is Maori translation of what is being said, you know, Maori into English, so there’s special headphones for people that want to listen to the translations in the chamber as well. So there’s lots of services that are provided, and I said I’m not going to be the only Member of Parliament who’s deaf or who has a hearing loss who’s going to need this service.

Matt: Absolutely, because I mean the fact that you were New Zealand’s first deaf MP, I mean that must have been huge in itself and probably, like I mean I’ve done a little bit of research, but you’d be one of the few MPs in the entire world.

MM: There’s five of us worldwide. And in fact last year there was a conference in Sydney of the World Federation for Deaf, and there was a number of the deaf Members of Parliament from other parts of the world – including Europe and South Africa – who were there, and it was really fantastic to meet them and we all did a presentation about our work as Members of Parliament.

Matt: Oh wow.

MM: So yeah, it’s been really big, but at the same time it highlighted that Parliament wasn’t really geared to cope with someone who needed accommodating as a Member of Parliament. And the reality is the House of Parliament is meant to be representative of New Zealand, and one in five New Zealanders have a disability and yet they’re not being reflected in the make up of Parliament, so their voice is not being heard in the debate. So it’s really, really important that we have Members of Parliament who have a disability and have that voice in Parliament. I mean just imagine, think back to when there were no women in Parliament and that voice of women was missing in Parliament. That’s unthinkable nowadays, and then I think in the future it will become unthinkable that there would be no voice for disability in Parliament.

Matt: So how did that make you feel initially, that you couldn’t actually get heard within Parliament without the technology? Because I mean there was a huge debate around providing it, but like you say it’s essential for you to be part of democracy, really.

MM: I just knew it was incredibly important that we won that debate, because it was about what Parliament looks like in the future, it was about disability in general. It wasn’t just about me, it was about opening the way for other Members of Parliament with disabilities to be able to do their work. And in fact there’s now been a law change to ensure that there’s funding for future MPs who have a physical or sensory disability, that their needs will be provided for. That’s now, the law has been changed as a result. And the other big win that happened directly as a result is that Parliament has committed to captioning of Parliament television, so currently if you watch Parliament television it’s not captioned, and they’ve been working on getting a captioning system set up, a live captioning system set up for Parliament television, and that’s to start in about a year’s time.

Matt: Oh wow, that’s quite a big breakthrough in itself, but particularly for someone who’s deaf to be able to watch-

MM: Or hearing impaired. I mean there’s more than 200,000 New Zealanders with some hearing impairments who will be able to now access the political debate live, and I think that’s really, really important.

Matt: And I mean really I think most programmes should be captioned, not only for people with disabilities that are deaf but I mean anyone right across the board, it may make it easier if things are captioned just as a matter of course.

MM: Absolutely. New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of captioned broadcast television in the world. It compares very poorly with other countries. One of the things I would really love to see is [inaudible 11:23] of captioning brought in, so that all of the larger TV programmes are captioned. It’s very frustrating for me as a politician not to be able to watch popular programmes like Campbell Live or TV3 News because they’re not captioned.

Matt: Yeah. So can you talk us through some of the changes that have been made within Parliament that have been made as a result of you becoming New Zealand’s first deaf MP?

MM: Well obviously there have been two types of changes. The first has been the provision of the electronic note-taking service. But the other one is actually around attitudes and being prepared to be flexible, because the note-taking service has a time delay. So what it means is if you move Parliament at its usual pace, or the Select Committee, I can’t always, I can miss the opportunity to vote or to have my say and so on. But all of the parties have been incredibly constructive in that. It’s brilliant, it’s awesome. So if I ask a question in the House of one of the Ministers, because they know beforehand that I’m going to ask that question they will shift where they’re sitting to be as close as they can get to where I am, so that I can actually lip read them and I’m not completely reliant on the note-takers, which is really helpful.

Matt: Oh that’s awesome.

MM: Yes. And in a Select Committee I once missed the vote and they retook the vote in order that I could cast my vote, and stuff like that. So there have been some very positive and constructive flexibilities shown by most people.

Matt: That was one of the things I was going to ask, has the environment within Parliament itself changed to accommodate you?

MM: Absolutely.

Matt: It must’ve been a fiery environment beforehand.

MM: Oh it still is, I mean you’ll be sitting there in the debating chamber with people shouting across at each other, and so yes. But I still feel that there’s more awareness of disability and disability issues amongst Members of Parliament directly as a result.

Matt: So what are some of the highlights since you’ve been- ?

MM: I think for me personally it has been the incredibly warm reception from the disability community right across the country, and not just people with disabilities but parents of children with disabilities, young people with disabilities, or caregivers and so on. They all know how big it is in their lives, if they themselves or their loved ones or a member of their family can’t access or participate in society because of people’s attitudes or because of structural barriers such as buildings being inaccessible. The flood of emails and contacts that I’ve had as a result, I mean sometimes it’s been difficult to keep on top of all of that. But I’ve travelled all around the country from Whangarei in the Far North to Invercargill to meet with different disability groups and so on, and that has been very humbling but rewarding as well.

Matt: I mean it must have been quite an empowering process for you to actually be able to make change within the whole disability sector, particularly with the amount of people that you would come across.

MM: Well it’s been fantastic to make some change, but I want to be able to leave a legacy that goes beyond me. I want to see more people with disabilities elected into Parliament, I have offered support to any member of any of the political parties who has a disability and wishes to, has aspirations to be a Member of Parliament. Because I think we need that, right across all the political parties we need that disability voice heard.

Matt: So I think the awareness is probably more out there as a result of you being in Parliament.

MM: I hope so, and that’s certainly my sense.

Matt: The changes that you’ve made as an individual, I think most people with disabilities would think it’s not possible for them to be an MP but it is. What advice would you give anybody with a disability who’s seeking to get a career in Parliament?

MM: Well I think it’s, the problem is that a lot of people with disabilities are very used to able-bodied people speaking on their behalf, and in a way even though it’s often done with the best of intentions able-bodied people don’t realize it can be very disempowering for people with disabilities if they only can rely on able-bodied people to speak on their behalf. And so it’s really important that we have disabled leaders speaking on behalf of disabled people so that voice can really come through, and recognize the leadership that already exists in the disability sector and give it the recognition and the value that it deserves.

Matt: And also there’s probably still a lot of doing for rather than doing with, for people with disabilities. I mean I think that’s the key, is really just to get out there and have a go and just try and be as independent as possible.

MM: I think it’s particularly important for our young people nowadays, because often older people who’ve lived with disability all their lives have been conditioned that you can’t aspire to leadership roles, whereas young people are much more open to the idea that they could be empowered to go for what they want to do and reach their full potential. And so for parents of young people with disabilities they feel like there’s nothing to stop my child doing what they want to do, and I think that’s really, really important. I mean obviously it’s hard work, obviously you still have to have the skills, but it means that we need to make sure that there’s no systematic barrier in the way, that people don’t automatically rule themselves out of taking on jobs because of society’s attitudes and perceptions about what disabled people can or can’t do.

Matt: So are there any particular barriers that you’ve faced as an MP?

MM: Oh yes, I mean all the time. For example, every morning the Green Party media team and MPs have a conference call to discuss what news releases they’re going to put out for the day, what questions we’re going to ask in Parliament, and I have not found a way of being able to participate in these calls when I’m not in Parliament. If I’m in Parliament I’m in the room with most of them so I can follow, with the help of the New Zealand Relay Service. But because it’s so fast, it’s not possible if I’m trying to phone in from home. So we have to work around some of these things. And obviously sometimes the media want to ring me and grab a quick comment from me on an issue. Now last year there was a new telephone service came out called the CapTel telephone, which is a brilliant service that allows you to see what is being said on a screen in front of you. And I can do radio interviews with that but I have to be at one of these phones, so I have to either be at my office or at home. If I’m somewhere else I can’t do a radio interview because I can’t do one on my cell phone. And so there are restrictions still, and I just have to work around them as best as I can.

Matt: Yes. I reckon we better bring Vanessa in, she’s been very quiet over there beavering away on the desk, but I think we need to bring Vanessa in to ask some questions.

Vanessa: Hey I don’t mind.

Matt: You don’t mind?

Vanessa: No I don’t mind! Welcome to Mojo to the radio station. It’s really great hearing some of the things that you do to make a difference, really, for all of us people and things like that. So I just wanted to ask you, what are some of the highlights you have had as an MP, particularly when advocating for people with disabilities?

MM: Well I’m always really thrilled when I raise an issue and there’s a policy change as a result of that. I’ve already touched on a couple of these earlier, but there’s another one I was very pleased with. I was at a conference and someone approached me who had Cerebral Palsy. And at the speech at the conference I had talked about how there’s a fantastic service called the Text 111 service for deaf people, so if you register for it we can text the police if we need them, or the fire or the ambulance. This person with Cerebral Palsy said I need access to that service, because I have a speech impediment and I can’t use the phone to speak clearly, but they won’t allow me to register for it. And I said oh, that’s not ok, you should be able to access this service as well. So we contacted a TV journalist, the story ran on television and a couple of weeks later, the criteria were changed so that people with speech impediments and other needs could also register for the 111 service. So these small little things are really very-

Vanessa: Make a difference,

MM: Yeah, really make a difference in people’s lives and are very satisfying when I feel like I can do something for them.

Vanessa: So how do you go about getting that system? Do you have to go through WINZ or- ?

MM: Well it depends on the nature of the thing, some of these changes require legislation, so it means that when a bill comes up we have to make sure we read it with a kind of eye for how is this going to affect disabled people? What changes do we need to make to make it work for disabled people? So that’s one way, participating in the process. But some of these changes, like the Text 111 service was just a policy change, so it’s about working with the media to highlight the issue and very often there’ll be a policy change as a result of the issue being highlighted in the media.

Vanessa: I think that’s quite important though isn’t it, with getting it out there with the media so that other people are aware of it.

MM: Yeah, there are some fantastic people in the media who are very aware of disability issues and want to work and are prepared to work constructively to not be patronizing. Because that’s really, really important, that we don’t want to feed that [feeling 23:02] that disabled people are helpless and so on. We want to do it in a positive, empowering way.

Vanessa: Absolutely, that’s the one thing that we come across, don’t we.

Matt: I mean I think you really want to make a difference. And like you just said, for disabled people themselves as individuals to be empowered, because that in itself has been a slow process for some people to actually find their voice and become empowered. And as a result of you being an MP I think attitudes are really changing, which is huge.

MM: Well one of the key messages which I always really try and get across when I’m talking to people about creating a more accessible society is the fact an accessible society benefits everyone. Everyone is better off and disabled people are included. Because we have an ageing population, and we have temporary impairment for people, so if we have a very inclusive and accessible society everyone’s better off. And inaccessibility doesn’t just affect disabled people, it affects their families, it affects their friends, it has significant ramifications. And they have a valuable part to play in society, so when they’re not contributing we are missing out on the skills and abilities of disabled people. So I really push that message, that there’s so much that we have to offer and that society really is better off. I mean take the Text 111 service, for example. People just think oh, deaf people need access to that to keep themselves safe, but actually there have been now a significant number of examples where deaf people have witnessed hearing people being mugged or assaulted and have texted the police to call for help for these people. And so it’s helped make society safer for hearing people as well as deaf people, because deaf people are now being able to call for help on their behalf.

Vanessa: Absolutely. Can you explain a little bit about the deaf community and culture in New Zealand?

MM: Well I mean, I was not brought up using sign language. In fact the school for deaf that I attended for a number of years in England banned the use of sign language, you were absolutely prohibited. And for some of the children attending that school it was really tough because sign language was their first language at home, they were children of deaf parents and that was how they communicated, and then when they got to this school they weren’t allowed to. But that was a common thing worldwide, that many deaf people were denied access to their own language. And because sign language is a visual language, it’s very expressive, it’s very visual, it’s a beautiful language, and it’s an incredibly important part of deaf culture. The core of that is their language, is sign language, and it’s fabulous in New Zealand that New Zealand Sign Language is one of the three official languages in New Zealand, that’s fantastic. But deaf people are still really struggling to access the right to have an education in sign language and access to interpreters for things like health services and so on, it’s a real struggle. So although we have got that official language status it’s not being resourced the way it needs to be to ensure equal access for deaf people.

Vanessa: Well I think it should be out there and brought in so that everyone gets equal rights.

MM: Absolutely, and it’s a beautiful language. Young people love it because they can use it for communicating in a noisy pub or something like that.

Vanessa: Yeah. Or if you want to have a secret conversation with somebody and everyone else doesn’t know how to sign.

Matt: Well probably generally if you’re communicating with it in a pub it’s probably not appropriate sign language. But that’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, Mojo, is actually learn sign language so that I can more effectively communicate with people with disabilities. Not only just the deaf, because everybody uses it. But I’ve never actually found-

MM: Well Deaf Aotearoa, during Sign Language Week, runs taster classes throughout New Zealand. So if you’re interested in having a taster class, a free taster class, just to give you a taste of how to introduce yourself, and say your name in sign language.

Vanessa: I only know how to do hi and bye and things like that, all the basic stuff. I reckon it’s an important language to learn, it’s really great. So what are some of the Green Party’s policies that could benefit the disability sector in New Zealand?

MM: Well New Zealand has signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and this basically affirms that disabled people have the right to participate in society on an equal basis with able bodied people, as everyone else. So that means the right to access services, the right to an education, the right to access buildings, and so on and so on. We’ve got the same rights as everyone else and it’s basically affirming that, and the Green Party is absolutely committed to making that real. We’ve acknowledged these rights but we haven’t yet made them real in New Zealand. We still have up to 24,000 buildings that don’t have disability access, and we’re talking about public buildings, we’re talking about sports venues, all sorts of things that are locking out disabled people from participating in society, from accessing social and-

Matt: I didn’t realize it was quite that bad Mojo, that’s quite scary still.

MM: Yeah, and we’re probably going to move backwards with access to physical buildings because the government is just passing a bill at the moment which includes the clause that will no longer require building owners to upgrade for disability access when they do earthquake strengthening. And in the past they’ve always been required to upgrade for disability access, and they’re looking at removing that, and we say that’s not ok. Because they’ve got lots of time to upgrade, they’ve got lots of time to plan for that, and it’s only a small part of that process.

Matt: And I mean particularly if those individuals are needing to rebuild, doesn’t it make sense to make your buildings more accessible while you’ve got the opportunity to start from the ground up, to include people with disabilities? Because like you say I mean a lot of them are public places and people with disabilities still want to use public places.

MM: Absolutely, and they have the right to do that.

Matt: They should have the right to, I mean it’s really just a basic human right.

MM: Absolutely, we see it as a basic human rights issue, and that as signatories to the Convention we need to make that right real, we need to hold onto that.

Vanessa: We do. Because it’s pretty archaic with the buildings, you know how you can’t access places.

MM: Well we have heaps of old buildings, and the requirement to upgrade for disability access, initially they were going to have to upgrade disability access regardless of whether they were doing earthquake strengthening. And then they said no, no, that’s too hard, let’s do it when we do earthquake strengthening because it’ll be cheaper that way. And now they’re going oh well you don’t have to do it at all, and I think hang on, no, you’ve had many, many years to upgrade, it’s not ok. So we’re strongly opposing that part because we believe that we can have buildings that are both safe and accessible, and that’s what we need to be aspiring to as a country.

Matt: Absolutely. So how can people with disabilities make a difference to maybe changing the attitude of government around that then, Mojo?

MM: Well, one of the things, there are a number of disabled persons’ organisations in New Zealand. For example there’s the Disabled Persons’ Assembly, there’s Deaf Aotearoa, the Hearing Association. All these different organisations have a special status under the Convention as being organisations that are run by disabled people for disabled people, and they do incredibly hard work making submissions on these bills and so on, on behalf of disabled people. So I would encourage people to support their disabled organisation in that work, because the stronger they are the stronger their voice is in Parliament and the more lobbying power they have. So that would be one way of taking action.

Vanessa: So one thing I wanted to know, it might be a tricky one, do you need qualifications to become an MP or what sort of things do you need, if you were thinking of going into-?

MM: If you were thinking of going into politics presumably you would have a party that you support. So the first thing to do is be involved with your party, find out what the attitude toward disabled people standing for selection is and get known within that party and become active.

Vanessa: Fight for your rights, pretty much.

MM: Yeah, I mean that’s how people usually get in, and your best chance usually is to get in on the list although some people will still stand for selection in a seat. But the thing is about lobbying your party to take disability seriously and to demonstrate that they’re taking disability seriously by how they run their disabled candidate. So I’m aware of, in other parties, that there are people coming forward, who are putting themselves forward. It’s now up to these parties to give these people a ranking that they deserve.

Vanessa: Oh right, because I often wondered about that. Because I thought as I was growing up there’s not enough being done for people with disabilities, so I thought what if I make a change and then, well I got busy anyway so I never really thought about it.

MM: I mean when I first joined the Green Party, I joined the Green Party because I was passionate about the environment. But then I found that actually if I wanted to speak about the environment as a deaf person, I had to change attitudes towards deaf MPs, the idea of having someone deaf who is a candidate. So it took the Green Party quite a while, some of the membership quite a while to get their head around that.

Matt: So was that like even within the party itself, even before you kind of-?

MM: Oh definitely at first, I mean we’re talking ten years ago now. But yeah there were people saying how can a deaf person be an MP? How can they do that? You won’t be able to hear the division bells, you won’t be able to participate in the debating chamber. So there was quite a bit of concern about that, and it takes time to change attitudes.

Matt: So what was your response to that then Mojo? Because I think it really is all about attitude eh.

MM: It was hard, but the really good thing that it did was make me embrace disability issues, because prior to that I’d only seen myself as an environmentalist with a conservation degree. And it kind of opened my eyes and I had to claim my identity as a deaf person and actually say ok, these people have concerns, how am I going to address these concerns directly? So in a way it made me look at the bigger picture.

Vanessa: So what do you see as the biggest stigma and discrimination issue facing disabled people today?

MM: Employment. Wherever I go it’s employment, it really, really is. And especially for young people who have grown up with a disability, it’s like what are their options for the future? Society tends to lock these people into a box and say you cannot ever aspire to a career.

Vanessa: Become a Prime Minister or something like that [laughs].

MM: [laughs] Well no I mean even just simply careers and good incomes and secure jobs. And the stories that I’ve been told as I’ve travelled around the country are heartbreaking, some of them, and so many of them are just about attitudes. It’s not like there’s any major change required it’s just about employers being understanding and prepared to make a small change and be of reasonable accommodation, and recognize the potential of people with disabilities, that they can bring to the workforce. So I think that’s the biggest barrier because without any prospect of employment people’s self esteem goes down, they get locked at low poverty levels and their health suffers and so on, and it’s just so wrong.

Vanessa: Shocking, yeah.

Matt: I mean I quite often think that really it’s not disabled people that disable themselves, it’s society’s attitudes towards disabled people.

Vanessa: That’s so right.

MM: Totally, absolutely. I would totally go along with that. Like one story that I could tell you involves a deaf man who was fit, strong and capable, but for nearly 20 years he could not get a job and was on the benefit. And one day he had had enough. He sat down in the middle of the WINZ office and he folded his arms and he said I’m not leaving, I want a job, I’m not leaving until you find me a job. And the WINZ staff ran around and said oh no! What do we do? And then they got him a job as a kitchen hand and it was like, finally, now he’s been working there for several years and he’s happy and he’s got employment. But it should not have taken him 20 years to get that job. And the reason why he wasn’t getting a job, for people who are deaf, employers say health and safety. We can’t employ you because you can’t hear and that’s a health and safety issue. And that’s just so wrong and we’ve got to change that understanding.

Vanessa: We do. I mean I’ve noticed that as a person personally myself. I had work when I was in Tauranga, I was working as a promotions person just promoting a photography place and that was great. And then after that I just went through so many job interviews and they just like look and went no, and I thought well what is it? Is it me as a person? And I would ask them, and they don’t have to say anything, and I just got discouraged by that and I thought no, you know I’m going to try and do some voluntary work, which is just as good as you know being employed. And I did some of that and I did a few hours working at the local community centre, which is great, and I’m still there doing voluntary work. So it’s great that they’ve acknowledged that a person with a disability can get out there and work.

MM: Absolutely, but it shouldn’t be so hard to get a foot in the door in the first place for people with disabilities

Vanessa: I think a lot of people do actually look at the person and they don’t even-

Matt: They see the disability first, rather than the person. Because for me, a prime example was a few years ago I went for a position here in the Wairarapa and got into the interview process, which was actually one of my first interviews that I’d actually got into, so I thought that was a big step for me myself. And I was actually supported by – I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning this – Shane from Wairarapa Stars Trust. Now for those who know Shane he’s actually blind, and Shane went into the room before I did and they thought they were interviewing Shane for the position and then I sort of rolled in casually behind and said well you’re actually interviewing me for the position and the person looked at me and said “well you won’t be able to do the job because of this, this and this”, because all they’d seen initially was the wheelchair. And I said hang on how about actually sitting back and acknowledging some of the skills that I’ve got without telling me the skills I haven’t got and reasons why I can’t do the job before the interview has even started.

MM: Absolutely, so the concept of a positive interview that focuses on what skills people have who are being interviewed is incredibly important for people with disabilities, and it’s an incredibly important part of the process. So one of the areas where more disabled people could be employed is in the public service sector. And so one of the things that I would really like to see is a guaranteed interview process for people with disabilities applying, so that they’re not automatically screened out before they get to the interview stage, and that their interview has to be a positive interview that focuses on what skills and strengths they’ve got, and I think these simple things could actually change the outcome of a lot of interviews.

Vanessa: I think instead of saying I don’t think you can do it, they should ask the question: so what can we do for you to make it a doable situation for you? Instead of assuming, coming to the assumption of well you can’t do it. It’s like, well, my brain can work, I’m quite intelligent, I’ve got the skills so why not?

MM: Absolutely, that’s exactly the kind of change that we need to see, and I think the public sector needs to model that for the private sector and that’s not happening at the moment. So that’s one of the things I’m sort of working on is a package around employment for disabled people.

Vanessa: We look forward to seeing that one don’t we, that’ll be exciting.

Matt: Absolutely. Now have you got any music lined up over there Vanessa, yet, or not quite?

Vanessa: I have indeed, I’m really prepared today.

Matt: I’m just thinking, we’ve just been chatting and it’s just been so easy but we’ve forgotten to play some music, we better play some music and have a-

Vanessa: That’s cool, but before we do that I’d like to say thank you to the Masterton District Council for funding our programme, I mean without you guys we wouldn’t be here chatting to Mojo Mathers and having all these awesome guests coming onto our show. So thank you Masterton District Council.

MM: And thank you for providing such a welcoming interview, thank you very much.

Vanessa: Oh you’re welcome, we try to do that for all our guests.

[music track 42:55 – 45:42]

Matt: Bohemian Rhapsody on Arrow FM 92.7 your community access radio station.

If you’ve just joined us this is Wheels on Fire, today with Vanessa and Matt, unfortunately [Beauche’s] not with us, which is a blimmin bummer for her really because we’ve got an awesome guest here in the studio – Mojo Mathers, Green MP from Christchurch Central, so once again Mojo thanks for coming to join us. I understand you’ve come all the way from Christchurch this morning, and I thought you were just coming from Wellington, so that’s even more of an epic effort to be here today, so yeah thanks.

MM:  That’s my pleasure.

Matt: We were talking a little bit off-air particularly around your education, because when you were going through university you had no support.

MM: That’s right. The only bit of technology I did have that my parents had bought for me was a radio link, so that the lecturers wear a microphone around their neck and that would have a direct link to my hearing aide through a radio wave, which helps a little bit but only a bit. And so some of the courses were difficult if they didn’t have a textbook, for example, that I could work on in my own time. But I’m very pleased that nowadays most students have better support than that. For example, Victoria University runs a very good disability support service whereby they meet with students with disabilities and access needs and find out what they can do to support them to ensure they can take the courses and so on. And that is incredibly important, because accessing a good education is the first step, often, to accessing employment further down the track. But there are still some challenges and often these centre around lack of understanding about the needs of students with disabilities. For example, deaf students might be asked to sit an exam where they’ve got to watch a video that’s not captioned, and that makes it really hard because of course they can’t follow what’s being said on the video so how can they answer questions that relate to the video?

Matt: Absolutely. I mean it’s just basic, everyday things that other people take for granted, that we don’t even necessarily think about as individuals, because if it doesn’t affect us some of the time it doesn’t matter. But it does.

MM: Absolutely, so some of it is about educating people – in the health sector, in the education sector and so on – around the kind of things they need to think about and be more aware of.

Matt: Like particularly with technology, what sort of technology do you use as an individual to help you on an everyday basis?

MM: Well there are some amazing things that can be done with technology. There are students studying for degrees who can’t write, for example, and they use voice recognition software or a special software that tracks their head movements in order to be able to select words and compose essays and so on. So there are some incredible things that can be done for all sorts of disabilities that in the past would never have been possible. And then these people go on to do some amazing bits of research or stuff like that, so it’s an absolute win-win because these people get an education and they are able to contribute their skills and their intelligence to solving problems for other people.

Matt: So what sort of policies do the Green Party have to help assist people with disabilities to lead everyday lives?

MM: Well, I think it’s incredibly important that we recognize the barriers that exist in society to participation for disabled people, and these barriers need to be removed. So whether we’re talking about being able to access a building or being able to access information, we need to identify these barriers and be really committed to removing them so that disabled people can access education, can access information, can access buildings. Because they’re all connected, because if you can’t access a building then you can’t get a job in that building, and so on. So it just starts from a basic premise that disabled people have the same right to access services, to access the public infrastructure as everyone else. And if we start from that basic premise, everything else follows as a consequence. What happens is that people keep making excuses and saying oh no, we can’t do it because it’s too hard, and I always just think they’re not being creative enough and they’re not being committed enough to recognizing the human rights of people with disabilities.

Matt: Yes. I mean I was just thinking really for me growing up, right through my family have been a huge level of support and a huge advocate for me, particularly for fighting for any sort of equipment that I’ve needed as a person with a disability to lead an everyday life. So just how important has your family been to you in that process?

MM: Incredibly important. I mean without my mother I would have never been able to access an education the way that I have, because it was my mother who taught me to speak, and it was my mother who in particular taught me to read, so she played an incredibly important role in my early life and because I had a love of reading I therefore got a good grasp of English and the English language, and it set me on a positive track for education.

Matt: Yeah. I mean I think really for anybody communication is the key, so I mean you’ve had extra barriers around communication as well which is just hugely inspiring that you’ve got as far as what you have as an MP and as an individual.

MM: But it wouldn’t have been possible without support. I had support from my mother, I had support from my family, and I had support of a good, high quality, free public education, both in England and in New Zealand. And committed teachers who understood deafness and what needed to be done to progress education for deaf students. These are the kind of committed people we need in education and need to be properly resourced by the government. Because the reality is if we don’t do that then we end up with people with hearing loss not achieving and some of them even go on to end up in prisons and so on, because they have not, they’ve always been sort of left behind in the classroom and they end up as angry, frustrated adults who’ve got nothing to do with themselves, and unable to fit into society. So the more we invest in our children, all of our children to reach their potential, and particularly children with disabilities, the better the future they will have.

Matt: Yeah true. So we’re just about coming to the end of Wheels on Fire, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone, with one song!

Vanessa: Hey that’s ok, that’s what makes a good interview, it’s been awesome.

Matt: Absolutely. So is there anything else that you want to cover today Mojo?

MM: Just that I really love being a Member of Parliament. I feel very proud and humbled to be representing disabled people in Parliament and I do the best that I can, but just remember I’m only one of a hundred and twenty Members of Parliament, so I really look forward to having a strong team come and join me in Parliament one day.

Matt: Absolutely. And outside of politics, what do you do to keep yourself well?

MM: I like pottering around the garden, walking my dog, I’m an animal lover, animal welfare is one of my other portfolios that I’m really passionate about. I love walking in the bush or on the beach, that sort of thing, enjoying the outdoors.

Matt: Because we were going to ask you about the portfolios that you do cover in Parliament.

MM: Well my priority portfolios are disability and animal welfare. I have a range of other portfolios as well, such as Civil Defence and so on, but these are the two top priorities.

Matt: Oh cool. So if anybody wants to make contact with you, if there’s been any issues that have been brought up today, how do they go about it?

MM: The simplest way is either to email me, mojo.mathers@parliament.government.nz, or to contact me through Facebook, friend me on Facebook and private message me.

Matt: Awesome and I know that she’s already liked Arrow FM’s Facebook page, so thanks heaps Mojo for doing that.

Vanessa: Thank you so much Mojo, it’s been an awesome privilege to have you here and we wish you all the best on your travels back, and let’s go Green Party!

MM: Thank you!

Matt: I almost feel like we could do another interview, but maybe that’s for another week.

Vanessa: Yeah, another week, maybe later. Alright time to wrap it up guys, bye!

MM: Bye!

Matt: Bye! Thanks Mojo!

 

The Mojo story and a Masterton coincidence

The big question still unanswered about the Mojo Mathers versus Taxpayers’ Union story is who initiated the story.

Questions are being asked about a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station.

A puzzle has remained about who put the questions to the Herald on Sunday in the first place.

Tonight PhilP commented on Kiwiblog:

I read a piece in Monday’s Wairarapa Times-Age where Trevor Mallard, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins were in Masterton last weekend with their Wairarapa Labour candidate Keiran McAnulty. Apparently they were out door knocking.

I can’t find the item on their website, but lo, the Wairarapa Times-Age is hosted by NZ Herald so must be APN.

This story is confirmed by some tweets:

@Kieran_McAnulty  Mar 1
Had a fantastic response from #gigatownMTN locals today, as the Labour team canvassed door to door. To those who helped out – Thank you!

@chrishipkins Mar 1
Great afternoon door knocking in Masterton. We’ve got an awesome candidate in @Kieran_McAnulty – popular with locals!

Embedded image permalink
And curiously:

If MPs end up having to justify every plane trip, taxi ride, bus fare, or train ticket the end result will be less public access to MPs

 @gtiso  Mar 1

@chrishipkins don’t worry. It’s only the left-wing MPs.

That was on Saturday. The Mojo Mathers story was posted on the NZ Herald news site at 8.30 am on Sunday.

Green MP’s 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned
By Patrice Dougan

8:30 AM Sunday Mar 2, 2014

Was it available in the print version of the Herald on Sunday before Sunday?

It seems quite a coincidence that Chris Hipkins was in Masterton on Saturday with Trevor Mallard and was talking about the story topic.

Another tweet:

Drove down to Children’s Day celebrations at Avalon Park this morning. Don’t tell Jordan Williams about this travel extravagance…

See earlier story: Mathers story seems odd

UPDATE: There’s confusion over timestamps in Twitter between browsers, it appears that Hipkins’ tweets were made on Sunday afternoon. Chrome:

Hipkins Masterton 1

But Firefox seems to be accurate:

Hipkins Masterton 2I’ve never noticed before but the layout is different between the browsers as well.

I accept the Sunday afternoon timestamp. This reduces the level of coincidence, but it’s still very curious to see the three Labour MPs active in Masterton on the same day the story was probably researched and written.

The news report from the Masterton Times-Age.

Labour MPs Masterton

And the big questions remain:

  • who gave the story to the Herald on Sunday?
  • why was the Taxpayers’ Union questioned about the story?
  • why did the story imply the Taxpayers’ Union had asked the initial questions?
  • what were the motives for trying to make something of a very innocuous visit by a Christchurch MP to Masterton?

UPDATE2: Someone from the Wairarapa says about the Times-Age:

Worthy of note is that the wretched editor, one Andrew Bonallack, is determined to turn the paper into a Labour Party news propaganda organ.

 

Mathers story seems odd

Just about everything about the story about the Mojo Mathers seems odd – see Taxpayer Union versus Mojo Mathers (the story has developed since then).

Summary

There was an article in the Herald on Sunday by Patrice Dougan about deaf Green MP Mojo Mathers that asked more questions than it answered.

Mathers is a very unlikely and unwise target for a petty political attack regarding MP travel when many questions could be asked about use and possible misuse of travel.

Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers’ Union poorly answered questions put to him by the HoS but he denies initiating the issue and he went into damage control quickly.

David Farrar, also involved with the Taxpayers’ Union, had no apparent involvement until making a late comment on Facebook, and posted nothing on Kiwiblog.

Through the day a number of Greens, including co-leader Russel Norman and communications director Andrew Campbell, kept trying to link John Key and National to the attack on Mathers.

Blogger Danyl Maclachlan (who’s partner works in the Green communication team) posts twice making serious accusations about funding of the Taxpayers’ Union and links with the TU and National and reacts aggressively when confronted.

There was no apparent involvement of Labour with no post and from what I can see no mention of this at all on The Standard (very unusual for something like this). Grant Robertson jumped on the bandwagon late yesterday.

The first question asked by the Herald remains unanswered – who asked it in the first place?

The Article

It started with an article in the Herald on Sunday this morning. It was odd. It was by Patrice Dougan – not a name commonly seen associated with political stories. It began:

Questions are being asked about a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station.

It then detailed Mathers’ trip to Masterton, and quoted her explanation. It then said she “did not know the cost of the trip” but then provided a detailed cost estimate.

It then closed with:

The Taxpayers Union questioned whether it was value for money.

“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said.

“The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money.”

Much criticism of Williams and the Taxpayers’ Union ensued. But Williams later claimed that he didn’t initiate the story or ask any questions, the Herald cam to him and asked him for comment.

Back to the opening sentence – “Questions are being asked about…” – who asked questions? That wasn’t answered, but it was implied that it had been the Taxpayers Union.

Green indignation

Social media was buzzing with Green indignation and criticism through the day. Much of it was the usual sort of quick reactions common when something controversial and potentially damaging politically.

But there were some unusual Green reactions as well.

@RusselNorman
The National Party’s ally doesn’t want Mojo speaking at a rural disability event. Seriously?

John Hart@farmgeek 
If you had any doubt the @TaxpayersUnion is a right-wing attack organ…

@RusselNorman
Whaleoil, Kiwiblog, Taxpayers Union, John Key. The four legs of the National Party attack dog.

Except Whale Oil and Kiwiblog do not appear to have been involved in this story. Slater reacted late in the morning – he is likely to break stories he is involved with. And Farrar was away on a walk for most of the day and still hasn’t posted on Kiwiblog about it (he covered it on his Facebook page late this afternoon).

@louise_bee
@RusselNorman
Interesting that they’re going after the Greens so much. They must consider you a bigger threat than Labour.

It’s common to see Greens talking up their importance like this when a scandal breaks, there was a lot of it during the Turei jacket episode.

@Andr3wCampbell 

Really glad @mojomathers gets out to rural communities to talk to people with disabilities. National’s attack petty.

@nzheraldnznews are people with disabilities in rural communities questioning the trip? Or just a @NZNationalParty aligned operative?

in actual news @JordNZ, here is a real story on tax payer spending @NZGreens uncovered whole you were chasing $500.

I think Andrew Geddis sums up the National Party attack on @mojomathers pretty well here http://pundit.co.nz/content/lets-all-pick-on-the-deaf-girl …

Andrew is “Aotearoa New Zealand Green Party Communications Director”.

Repeatedly linking National to the story and to the Taxpayers’ Union.

Support act

Danyl Mclauclan used to be an accomplished satirist at his Dim-Post blog, but he has evolved into a usually occasional political commentator/activist. Unusually he posted twice today, both on this topic.

Another question for the Taxpayer Union

Here’s my question for the Taxpayer’s Union and the journalists who run their copy. How much of the revenue of the various companies, consultancies and law firms run by the founders and directors of this ‘union’ is taxpayer funded? Given the individuals involved – eg Jordan Williams, David Farrar – I’d be shocked if the taxpayers were paying less than a million dollars a year to the people involved in this organisation who run around planting attack stories against opposition parties.

And:

Slightly more thoughts on the Taxpayers’ Union

Here’s how I’m guessing this works. The (taxpayer funded) opposition researchers in the National Party find a smear story they like. They pitch it to an editor at the Herald and – because they can’t provide comment themselves for obvious reasons, such as John Key’s taxpayer funded golf game – they say, ‘Call Jordan Williams at the Taxpayers’ Union and he’ll give you comment.’

So, that’s sort-of how political media works.

That sounds odd too, as if he is trying pin something on an opponent. Danyls insists he isn’t a Green but has been open about the fact that his partner works in the Green communications team.

I suggested to him on Twitter that “As much chance that #NZGreens could be playing this game as easily as @NZNationalParty are? Party and surrogates could be spinning?”

He usually ignores me but this time responded:

When is the last time you saw me quoted in a media story, vegetable?

And to a tweet from someone else:

Where did you get the idea that I was a member of the Green Party or shared their values? Fuck off lick-spittles.

That’s uncharacteristic and could suggest some sensitivity.

Labour’s involvement

What’s most notable about Labour’s involvement was the absence of any. The Standard didn’t post on it and remarkably there seems to be absolutely no comment on the most talked about political issue of the day.

Grant Robertson joined the issue very late, 8.36 pm last night, with a single tweet.

@grantrobertson1
Lets be clear Jordan Williams and his so called Taxpayers Union are simply a right wing political front. They should be reported as such.

Labour to have been right out of this loop

National’s involvement

Tau Henare tweeted early in support of Mathers…

@tauhenare
@mojomathers
Dear Mojo, tell these self serving pricks to go find something else to do. You are doing your job. #Endofstory

…and reacted to accusations later:

@Andr3wCampbell So which Nat MP supports the outrageous attack on a fellow MP?

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP Ok bro so there are NO #NatMPs involved as far as we know. Just tell the truth FGS

@Andr3wCampbell And where’s the answer to my question. What MPs belong to #TPU? Answer the blinking question!

This is the face of the @NZGreens Coms Director. 1 He said #NatMPs were involved in the #TPU Debacle. Nope 2. dear #TPU, thanks for nothing.

The @NZGreens Coms Director. 1 He said #NatMPs were involved in the #TPU Debacle. Nope,Liar pic.twitter.com/W7eFU7SNcI

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP Shutup you backed the greens Coms director, he said it, you tried to support him! U got caught, you deny it

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP and BTW don’t woah me. Your supposition isn’t the point. There are no MPs and it’s not Nat party apparatus.

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP I have no raw nerves, your mates lied and you over cooked it. Our MPs wld be outrAged at #TPU stupidity.

Judith Collins was only briefly drawn into it.

@JudithCollinsMP

@tauhenare: @Andr3wCampbell So which Nat MP supports the outrageous attack on a fellow MP?”Tau, you can’t expect the Left to tell the truth

Where does this leave it?

I’ve seen many attempted political hit jobs in media and online and this looks quite different to normal. There’s no sign David Farrar was involved and Jordan Williams did not appear to be pushing the story, to the contrary, he tried to retreat from it. He said it was “a hard lesson learned.”

It looks like a job done by people who are not practiced in the dark arts of politics.

While it’s possible it was opportunist reaction to the story Green leadership and their communications team were actively pushing a wider story, trying to taint the Taxpayers’ Union and also trying to smear National and Act.

But this currently left where it started in the Herald article – “Questions are being asked about …” – what questions? And who asked them?

We know who kept asking questions through the day, but we can’t be sure who put the question to the Herald in the first place.

The Herald is based in Auckland. It reported on a minor trip to Masterton by a Christchurch MP with a low profile. And it’s primary question seems to have deliberately implied something mischievous without answering the question.

There is something very odd about this story.

Taxpayer Union versus Mojo Mathers

The Taxpayer Union criticism of an 800 km trip by Green MP to talk on “a small provincial radio station” has raised some ire and discussion. NZ Herald reports in Green MP’s 800km taxpayer-funded trip questioned:

The Green MP says the 800km trip on the taxpayer dollar was essential, but a taxpayer group queries whether it was fiscally and environmentally responsible.

On Friday, Parliament’s only deaf MP flew from Christchurch to Wellington, then drove to Masterton, to participate in ArrowFM’s Wheels on Fire programme for people with disabilities.

ArrowFM is one of 12 Community Access Radio stations in New Zealand, and the only community station in Wairarapa. Its audience is not known, but its Facebook page has 132 “likes”.

The Taxpayers Union has been unnecessarily snarky.

“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said.

“The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money.”

This leaves Taxpayers Union open to accusations of this being a partisan attack, an inevitably this is what has happened. One example:

Andrew Campbell ‏@Andr3wCampbell 

Are people with disabilities in rural communities questioning the trip? Or just a @NZNationalParty aligned operative?

Mathers explains her side of the story.

Last night Ms Mathers said the journey was a necessary expense because it was “almost impossible for me to do live interviews over the phone”.

She needed to be face-to-face with the interviewer in order to lip read, she said, especially for a one-hour show.

“As the only disabled Member of Parliament it is really important I represent disabled New Zealanders, which make up one in five New Zealanders,” she said.

“MPs do have to fly a fair bit to get out to our communities. All Green MPs offset our air travel and try to minimise it as much as possible.

“I consider all requests to meet very carefully, including this one, and I felt it was really important to take this opportunity to speak to disabled New Zealanders living in rural communities.”

Fair points. But because she has special considerations due to her disability and her focus on advocating for people with disabilities shouldn’t rule out questioning whether Mather’s trip was sensible use of travel expenses.

Were the trip expenses solely for this one purpose? Was it good value for money?

Could this trip have been done at a more sensible time, for example while Mathers was already in Wellington on other business?

It’s worth also pointing out that other MPs incur substantial travel costs, often of far more questionable benefit to the taxpayers.

For example over the past couple of weeks a number of MPs (from Labour and National that I’m aware of) have been flying around the country from one university orientation week to another. They may claim to be communicating with constituents but a large amount of focus seems to be on promoting their parties and trying to recruit youth members.

It’s fair to question Mathers on how wisely she was incurring costs – if this questioning was done in a more reasonable manner it would be taken more seriously.

But picking this one trip out of the many MP travel rorts seems odd and unfair.

UPDATE: To clarify – this story was not initiated by the Taxpayers’ Union, it was  Herald story and Jordan Williams was asked to comment off the cuff, which he did.

UPDATE 2: More details…

Banks calls Dunne “puppy-hater” on Psychoactive Substances Bill

John Banks clashed with Peter Dunne during the second reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill yesterday, interjecting frequently. During Dunne’s speech Banks called him a puppy hater.

Hon John Banks: Will it happen, yes or no? Will animal testing—

Hon PETER DUNNE: Can I say again to the member it was never the intention. How many words does he need to explain it? I am not going—

Hon John Banks: No, you won’t, you puppy-hater.

Hon PETER DUNNE: That is absolute, ridiculous nonsense. If the member for Epsom wants to go out there and oppose this legislation, he can answer to his communities, he can answer to the parents and to all of the people affected by it, and he will be the one who will be reviled as the person out of step with public opinion.

At some stage Dunne tweeted “John banks idiot”.

Banks’ criticism of Dunne may be misdirected. Associate Health Minister Todd McClay:

Mr Dunne asked that committee for advice on non-animal tests, clearly articulating his strong preference for a regime that excluded animal testing. The committee’s advice was that some animal testing would be necessary at first to ensure that the risk of products was accurately assessed.

And Green MP Kevin Hague:

The fact is that the previous Associate Minister of Health encouraged people to make submissions about animal testing. The committee did receive advice from the Clerk that amendments that absolutely ruled out animal testing per say would be out of scope. We received no advice that those submissions were out of scope. So the chair was wrong to rule those submissions out of scope. The National majority was wrong to not hear those submissions.

The bill is seen as world leading and ground breaking and has near unanimous support. Banks is the sole opponent.

Banks interjected through Dunne’s speech. First he corrected Dunne saying “looks like enjoying the unanimous support of this House”:

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am delighted to speak on the second reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill ….. I am very pleased with the work that the Health Committee has done in terms of its consideration of the legislation and the bill that has emerged and looks like enjoying the unanimous support of this House.

Hon John Banks: No, no, no.

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am sorry. I should have known better perhaps than to presume that the ACT Party would be in line with public opinion.

Banks gave more detail about his opposition in his speech:

Hon JOHN BANKS (Leader—ACT): I rise to oppose the Psychoactive Substances Bill , and I will oppose it at every turn until it ends up on the statute book with the numbers, except for myself, in this House.

This bill is well-intentioned—there is no doubt about that—and it is aimed at ensuring that psychoactive substances sold in New Zealand are as safe as possible. I want to pay my respects to the new Associate Minister of Health, Todd McClay, for his noble intentions with this bill, which he inherited from the ex-Associate Minister .

However, I simply cannot support it. I find it totally unacceptable that this bill fails to rule out—rule out—testing these recreational drugs on innocent animals. Protecting animals is ingrained in my soul.

I think that most New Zealanders will be outraged at the idea that chemicals people use just for fun can be, and likely will be, tested on harmless animals. Animals will be put to extreme pain, animals will suffer, and animals will die.

Dunne had previously explained “one of the great red herrings of this debate, the animal testing issue”.

Hon PETER DUNNE: Let me deal with one of the great red herrings of this debate, the animal testing issue. There was never any intention ever to embark upon a programme of animal testing associated with these products—never ever any intent. What happened was simply this—what happened—

Hon John Banks: There was going to be.

Hon PETER DUNNE: If the member would just give me the courtesy of some silence, I will explain to him what actually happened.

Dunne provided an explanation until Banks started a series of interjections:

That was why I worked with the Health Committee through the expert advisory committee to make sure that the instances where animal testing might be even a possibility were minimised and reduced. But I say to the House it was never the intention—

Hon John Banks: Is there any animal testing? Is there any animal testing?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Mr Banks, if you ask a question, it is customary to let the person answer it before you come back with the next one.

Hon John Banks: Is there any animal testing?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am just in the process of explaining to the jabbering preacher to my left the answer to his question. It was never the intention to embark upon an animal-testing regime as part of this legislation.

Hon John Banks: Will there be animal testing?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Can I explain again. This is becoming like a routine. It was never the intention to embark upon any form of animal testing. The expert advisory committee has given very clear advice to the select committee. The reality is that a lot of the stuff—and I am still getting emails today in Cyrillic script, in various different languages, from around the world from people saying “Don’t test psychoactive substances on dogs.” That was never the intention.

Hon John Banks: Will it happen?

Hon PETER DUNNE: It was never going to happen. The member says: “Will it happen?”. Can I say it was never going to happen.

Hon John Banks: Will it happen?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Dear me. You can only go so far in terms of legislating—

Hon John Banks: Will it happen, yes or no? Will animal testing—

Hon PETER DUNNE: Can I say again to the member it was never the intention. How many words does he need to explain it? I am not going—

Hon John Banks: No, you won’t, you puppy-hater.

Hon PETER DUNNE: That is absolute, ridiculous nonsense. If the member for Epsom wants to go out there and oppose this legislation, he can answer to his communities, he can answer to the parents and to all of the people affected by it, and he will be the one who will be reviled as the person out of step with public opinion.

I say to the ACT Party that if it wants to show any form of relevance, it will grow up, it will respect the conscience of New Zealanders on this issue, and it will support this legislation. He is welcome to be on a limb; it will be a very lonely place, I assure him.

Banks later devoted his speech to the animal testing issue. He concluded:

I want to thank Mojo Mathers for her work on this bill and her Supplementary Order Paper, which I will be supporting. I am sure other parties will support it as well.

But I say to her and the Green Party, if your amendment fails at the Committee stage to get the numbers, you should vote against this bill anyway. The Green Party has an excellent set of credentials around animal rights and animal welfare and I applaud you today for those.

We are sacrificing animals at the alter of recreational drug use. It is a disgrace to this country. It should not happen. It does not need to happen. We could stop it. It could be world-leading education. I repeat these words: as the most powerful creatures on this earth, humans have a responsibility to protect all animals from senseless, worthless, and shameless cruelty at all times and in all places, and I am starting with this legislation here today in this Parliament.

This will be addressed later in the debate when another Green MP Mojo Mathers speaks.

The other issue that I address in the minority report, and that has to be addressed, I believe, by this House—and my colleague Mojo Mathers will speak more about this—is the animal testing issue.

We must adopt Mojo Mathers’ Supplementary Order Paper in the Committee stage, in order to have that world-best practice—that model for the rest of the world. Thank you.

Animal testing is an emotive issue. There’s more to come on it.

Mathers, Dunne, party pills and animal testing

In Question Time today Mojo Mathers asked Peter Dunne about animal testing and party pills. This clarifies the issue.

In The House video: 4.12.12 – Question 11: Mojo Mathers to the Associate Minister of Health

11. Drugs, Psychoactive—Animal Testing

[Sitting date: 04 December 2012. Volume:686;Page:12. Text is subject to correction.]

11. MOJO MATHERS (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Other than the LD50 test, will he rule out other animal tests for the pending psychoactive substances testing regime?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) : With regard to psychoactive substances, I have directed the Ministry of Health to develop a regulatory regime consistent with international best practice and avoiding animal testing wherever possible. The standards for approval for psychoactive substances will be set by an independent expert committee to be established early next year.

Mojo Mathers: Why is there not a single non-animal testing option included in the Ministry of Health’s testing regime recommendation paper dated March 2012?

Hon PETER DUNNE: There have been a number of alternative options proposed. They are all to be considered by the expert committee. I should make the point that the material that was the subject of the release last week, which got the weekend publicity, was neither ministry advice nor Government policy. They were comments contained in a report from an independent toxicologist.

Mojo Mathers: How does he reconcile that omission with the purpose set out in Part 6 of the Animal Welfare Act to “replace animals as subjects for research, and testing by substituting where appropriate, non-sentient or non-living alternatives:”?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am not attempting to reconcile the two statements for this reason. The material that the member refers to, which was the basis of the publicity at the weekend, was neither official advice to the Ministry of Health nor a statement of Government policy, but a statement by an independent toxicologist. The expert committee that I referred to in my original answer, in developing the standards for approval, will obviously be guided by all relevant pieces of legislation, including the legislation to which the member has referred.

Mojo Mathers: I seek leave to table the Ministry of Health report from March 2012, which outlines the proposed safety testing regime and it is called Regulations governing the control of novel psychoactive drugs defining parameters associated with toxicity.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

  • document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Mojo Mathers: So will he now commission a report into non-animal options for safety testing of new recreational drugs?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Can I repeat for the member’s benefit my original answer. I have directed the Ministry of Health in developing the regulatory regime consistent with international best practice to look at avoiding animal testing wherever possible. As I said earlier, the precise regime will be developed by the independent expert committee, which will be established early next year.

Mojo Mathers on party pills and animal testing

Mojo Mathers has responded to emailed questions about the Green position on party pills and animal testing.

Do you think party pills should be proven safe before going on the market?

Yes, absolutely. We can’t have unsafe products on the shelf. But it’s obvious that the public are appalled to know that animals are to be subjected to considerable suffering to get these party drugs to market.

Do you think it’s more important to protect animals than allow the sale of party pills?

Yes, I do. But I really feel that the key issue is that there are non-animal options for safety testing and that all of Government needs to be aware that animal testing is a last resort, not a first one as was the case before we made this issue public. Dogs and other animals shouldn’t be made to suffer just so that we can get legal highs on store shelves.

Is some level of animal testing acceptable? If not and it rules out party pills because they can’t be adequately tested are you comfortable with this?

There are some situations where animal testing is required, but this is only in cases where it is endeavoured that no animal suffers as a result, and the study can show the potential for overwhelming benefit to animals or humans. Having every available party pill on the shelf is not an overwhelming benefit.

Please advise if they are your own views or official Green position.

These are both my views and the views of the Green Party.

You can see more about Green party policy here http://www.greens.org.nz/policysummary/animal-welfare-policy-summary