Stance on NZ sign-language bill clarified

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Aug 15 13:28:55 UTC 2005

ACT's [NZ Liberal Party] Stance On Sign Language Bill Clarified
Friday, 12 August 2005, 12:11 pm

Press Release: ACT New Zealand
[Letter to the Editor of Scoop]
12 August 2005

Dear Mr Peck,

I did not respond to your earlier messages because the questions appeared
to be rhetorical, more statements of position than requests for
information. I can understand puzzlement about the differences between Mr
Eckhoff's original welcome to the Bill, and my release.

The explanation is that his speech was given when the Bill was introduced.
The government did not consult with the Act party before then. He had just
seen the Bill. Naturally it was taken at face value. My comments came
after hearing many hours of evidence before the Select Committee which
reported on the Bill. I read all the material provided by submitters and
officials. As the release it says, it became clear that there was no
proper costing, that the designation as an "official" language was purely
symbolic, a hollow gesture with no meaning set out in the Bill, leaving it
for judges to decide whether it means anything at all. I was disturbed by
the militance that seeped through one or two submissions. Though the
matter was not raised, I think some supporters showed something of the
attitude that in Britain is now contesting cochlear implants.

I will not be indifferent to an attitude that elevates group identity over
common citizenship, whether the identity is racial or religious or
otherwise. The Ministry of Justice was quite clear in their advice that
the bill did not essentially expand on rights already assured to deaf
people in courts and proceedings, by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The comments in my release would have appeared as a minority view in the
select committee's report if I had been able to be present at the critical
meeting which deliberated on the report. I was well aware that there would
be people in the deaf community offended by my opposition. I did not make
the statement to attract votes. I knew that it would be of interest to few
outside the deaf community.

I have seen it as my duty as an MP to oppose law that is misleading,
deliberately ambiguous, and potentially a gift mainly to professionals, in
this case lawyers and interpreters. Act has consistently stood for
principles at the expense of popular support. I do not believe we should
be passing legislation that appears to promise things which the fine print
does not deliver.


Stephen Franks

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