Deaf MP Mojo Mathers says a decision to grant her funding for support in the House was a "very positive result" for the disability community and for herself as an MP.
Speaker Lockwood Smith this morning announced he had directed Parliamentary Services, which funds support for all MPs to do their jobs, to provide the legal authority to fund electronic note-takers for Mathers.
"It is the right decision and it represents a significant step forward for the disability community in New Zealand," Mathers said.
"This decision provides genuine equity for treatment for people with disability who get elected in to Parliament."
Separately, Smith said he wanted to develop a captioning service for Parliament TV to make proceedings of the House more accessible to the hearing-impaired.
Mathers said that move was particularly welcome. It would greatly increase access to the political debate and Parliament to the 700,000 New Zealanders with a hearing impairment.
Mathers said she was very grateful to the thousands of people who had supported her by writing letters to the editor, signing petitions or emailing Smith. She had even received offers to provide note-taking for free.
Smith said the funding to support Mathers in the House would be in addition to that to which she is already entitled, "to ensure she may fulfil her role as a member of Parliament."
"The cost of these services will be met from the Parliamentary Service's baseline and is additional to the funding provided to support all members."
The decision appears to be a victory for Mathers, who had previously claimed that Smith had asked her to find funding for note-takers out of her Green Party's existing allowances.
The Greens obtained a legal opinion from Chapman Tripp which suggested the additional funding could be legally provided by a new allocation from Parliamentary Services, rather than taken out of existing allowances for individual members.
The advice was taken to a meeting of the Parliamentary Service Commission, which met on Wednesday night.
Smith said the commission had proposed a mechanism whereby the Speaker would have "the flexibility" to fund "the needs of any disabled or impaired members" out of the allocation he had to support all MPs.
"I am disappointed that we have not been able to find a solution that gave me that flexibility," he said.
After finding no resolution on Wednesday night, Smith had decided to find a way for Parliamentary Services to legally provide funding.
Smith said his office had been funding support for Mathers in the interim, but that could not continue. The new funding from Parliamentary Services would provide the permanent solution.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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