Disability & Politics: Where To Next For New Zealand?

The fallout of the 2017 General Election has been disastrous for New Zealand’s disability community, and it signals an incredibly difficult three years ahead.

With the departure of Green MP Mojo Mathers, disability issues are now on the verge of being taken off the political agenda altogether.

Mathers was, arguably, the loudest voice for the rights of disabled New Zealanders at a political level. 24% of the national vote had the potential to make a difference, but the question of how many disabled people actually went out and voted remains unanswered. Mathers’ departure comes as so surprise, and it all reality, this sad reading should’ve been foreseen well in advance.

What Next For Disability Issues In NZ Politics?

Nicky Wagner’s future as Minister for Disability Issues is under serious question, especially now. Wagner failed to win in her home electorate, but the worst could be yet to come. Should Winston Peters form a Government with Labour and the Greens, things could change drastically again.

But the biggest loss for Parliament, from a disability and inclusivity standpoint, is again the departure of Mathers.

In early September, the disability community was encouraged to take a different approach towards the political discussion. Experts urged a change in language, asking community leaders to identify as voters, and not disabled people. Did that happen before election day? No, because the opportunity was never there.

Again, such thinking should have been foreseen by the disability community. Politicians care about votes, especially around election time. But what was the political investment in disability issues and the wider discussion? Little, to zero.

The Conservative & Uncommitted In The Disability Community Need To Get Real

What you saw on September 23rd was a large part of the 24% not making the effort to vote. Too many disabled people think that their voice won’t make a difference. You can understand where that thinking has come from, but it’s time for many in the community to get real and face facts.

Differences can be made, but the conservative and the uncommitted are slowing the entire process down.

The process is going to be difficult enough moving forward. Some of the community’s leading advocates are already considering putting themselves into local politics, and this signals a loss in faith of the wider sector. Drastic changes need to be made to the attitudes within so many organisations that claim to be in support of people with disabilities.

It is indeed a long road ahead, but like has been the case for so long before, the sector’s fate is within its own hands.