Editorial: Speaker needs to get Mojo working

Last updated 05:00 16/02/2012

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OPINION: Mojo Mathers, New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP, was elected to Parliament to represent the interests of the almost 250,000 people who voted for the Greens last November.

To perform her duties she needs to know what is being said by other MPs in Parliament's debating chamber.

By quibbling over the extra funding she needs to follow proceedings, Parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith, is not just jeopardising her effectiveness, he is disenfranchising the 11 per cent of the population which voted for the Greens. They are as entitled to have their views expressed in Parliament as people who voted for National, Labour or any other party.

Worse still, by refusing to provide extra funding for a running transcription service, Dr Smith is sending a damaging message to people with disabilities. It is: don't stand for Parliament. You are not welcome.

The message to political parties is equally harmful. It is: don't select candidates with disabilities, whatever their merits. If you do you will find yourselves financially disadvantaged in comparison with other parties.

In defence of his actions, Dr Smith says there are processes that have to be followed, he does not have the authority to approve the additional spending and that the matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the Parliamentary Service Commission in three weeks. Poppycock.

Ms Mathers came into Parliament in early December after the counting of special votes. The Speaker and his officials have had two months to ensure she can participate fully in the affairs of Parliament.

The suggestion that she fund the $30,000 cost of note takers out of her own parliamentary budget is undemocratic. So is the suggestion that Green Party MPs collectively fund it out of their budgets.

Serious questions can, and should, be asked about the amount of public funding provided to MPs, particularly list MPs such as Ms Mathers, who do not represent electorates. However, if one list MP receives public funding, all list MPs should receive the same amount of funding.

And if MPs need additional support to enable them to fulfil their parliamentary duties, it should not be at the expense of their ability to carry out their other duties.

As the Greens have rightly pointed out, Parliament is equipped with an expensive sound system to enable MPs to better follow proceedings in the often rowdy chamber. Twenty thousand dollars a year is budgeted for running costs. Ms Mathers receives no benefit from the system or its maintenance, but there has been no suggestion that other MPs meet the cost out of their parliamentary budgets.

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Dr Smith should think again. An MP should not be discriminated against because he or she has a disability. Nor, more importantly, should voters be discriminated against because they elect an MP with a disability. The funding should be found to enable Ms Mathers to perform her job.

The cost will be infinitesimal compared to the amount politicians from all parties spend on travel.

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