For the few people who know me (hello Mum), I am proudly New Zealand’s first Autistic Spectrum Lawyer, as well as being the very bottom Candidate on the Labour Party List. (64 out of 64). Being honoured like this is touching, and when I made the List, I promised to speak for the disabled community. Today is where it gets uncomfortable. I wrote a question to the three Leadership Candidates who threw their hats into the ring quickly. This was before Nanaia Mahuta fronted up, so being fair, she did not get the question till today.
This is a copy and paste of the e-mail sent on 3 October:
Dear David, Andrew and Grant (in no specific order). I wish to ask a question that I intend to post on Facebook in regards to the Leadership race: Given that: 1. Labour core values are based upon inclusion and equal opportunity for all, and
2. Labour considers the number of people with disabilities during selection, and
3. Labour has not had an MP with a disability since Norm Kirk, what does equal opportunity mean for you, and what are you going to do to encourage and foster more disability access and representation within Labour and Caucus as Leader? I would be honoured if you felt able to answer this question by e-mail so I can then post it. Whilst I am honoured and privileged to know all three of you, and to know that whoever succeeds will be an excellent Leader, we are a badly disenfranchised group that needs a voice. I am asking this on my own recognisance, and purely and solely as a Labour Party member and candidate. May the best person win! Many thanks Simon Buckingham
Sadly, not one of the three I wrote to felt that disability issues are worth responding to. Not one reply. I know that they are busy, but this was sent four weeks ago, which is plenty of time to reply. However, having received the question today, Nanaia has answered within a few hours. Whilst her answer is not ideal, I admire it for honesty and openness. Also, for promptness. Her answer can be found on my Candidate page on Facebook. I am not totally in accord with the answer, but at least it gets some debate going around this sorely neglected issue.
I have a few facts for our Leadership Candidates who have failed to answer. I know all to be great people who bring some amazing qualities to Caucus and Labour. Nanaia is a by-word in loyalty. Andrew is passionate abour the Unions and justice, David is a fiscal genius who puts his money where his mouth is, and Grant is the ultimate Labour stalwart. Whoever succeeds would be a good Leader (though I still feel that David Cunliffe is the best PM we never had). However, if you want to succeed long term, you NEED our vote. We are 24% of New Zealand society. Everyone in New Zealand is affected by disability in one way or another. We are not les imbeciles blithereaux who sit in a corner dribbling, just like accessibility does not just mean wheelchair access (though this is a vital issue). We are a vast cross-section of society that also tends towards the left politically. If united, we could have got the left into Government this election. However, whilst David Cunliffe fronted up and even sponsored the Kirk (disability) Sector of the Labour Party in his New Lynn Electorate before replacing David Shearer, no-one else going for Leadership has spoken for us. Is Labour about lip service or do we really believe in equal opportunities to succeed? With a significant proportion of our community disenfranchised (unable to vote) anyway, unless real and significant support and opportunity is given, we are nothing but hypocrites. I am Labour because I do believe. I can see a groundswell of change. However, I stood for the List based upon disability, and unless I speak up loudly and clearly, I am also a hypocrite in for my own interests. Therefore, my message is either include us, recognise us, and give us a voice, or lose our support to whoever will give us a voice. This is not a threat. I am solidly Labour. This is a painful truth and prediction. Andrew, David and Grant – Please could you answer this question above? Thank you.