Mojo Mathers makes history with maiden speech

By Amelia Romanos

Green Party MP Mojo Mathers made her maiden speech today. Photo / supplied
Green Party MP Mojo Mathers made her maiden speech today. Photo / supplied

Without words or even sound, members of the deaf community cheered on Green MP Mojo Mathers as she made her history-making official introduction to Parliament today.

Ms Mathers delivered her maiden speech with assistance from a sign language interpreter in the chamber - a first for New Zealand's Parliament.

"My election on the Green Party list under MMP means that hearing impaired, deaf and people with disabilities have representation in Parliament by someone who shares with them many of the same experiences and challenges that they face,'' Ms Mathers said.

"It is a huge honour to be representing this community in the House, and I take this responsibility seriously.''

Parliament's public gallery was filled with members of the deaf community, and were joined by the MPs as they applauded Ms Mathers by waving their hands - the sign language equivalent to clapping.

The MP spoke about the difficulties she had faced because of her disability, and the help she had received to combat those.

"I was two and a half years old and without speech, when teachers at my kindergarten picked up that I was profoundly deaf and I was provided with large aids that I wore in a harness strapped on to my body.''

With help from "amazing and totally dedicated'' mother, as well as support throughout her childhood, including three years at England's Mary Hare School for Deaf, Ms Mathers said she would never have caught up with her peers.

"I believe that it is the right of every child with a disability, to have the access to the level of early intervention and quality education that I had, so that every child can reach their potential,'' she said.

Ms Mathers also touched briefly on the controversy that erupted this week regarding the funding of a note-taker, who provides the MP with an instant transcript of parliamentary debate.

Speaker Lockwood Smith has said the cost of the note-taker should be funded from Ms Mathers support budget, but the Green Party have argued that other MPs don't need to dip into their budgets to participate in Parliament, and making Ms Mathers do so would amount to discrimination.

"I am hopeful that Parliament will show leadership in this area and move quickly to resolve this, so that I can get on with the work that I was elected to do.''

Among the goals on her to-do list, Ms Mathers said she wanted improved access to information and communication services for deaf, hearing and vision impaired, such as improving captioning and audio description of television, DVD's and internet.

"il recently, New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of television captioning in the developed world. Even Uganda had higher rates than us,'' she said.

While access to television had improved, full access to political debate was still out of reach of many, and Ms Mathers called for captioning of Parliament TV.

Ms Mathers was the first of seven new Green MPs to give their maiden speeches today, and was followed by Jan Logie, Julie Anne Genter, Denise Roche, Steffan Browning, Eugenie Sage and Holly Walker.

Many of the new recruits acknowledged the work of previous Green MPs, in particular paying credit to the late Rod Donald.

Ms Walker, at 29 the youngest member of the caucus, said she had never met Mr Donald but he had still played a part in her road to politics.

The new MP recalled how she was fascinated when, as a fourth former at Hutt Valley High School, she watched a video of the Springbok Tour, in which Mr Donald made an appearance.

"He spoke earnestly into the camera about why he was putting his safety on the line to march in the front lines of the increasingly terrifying anti-apartheid protests,'' she said.

"I went home from school and told my mum that I wished we had issues like that to protest about these days. She laughed and told me there were plenty. I started paying attention and realised she was right.''

Mr Browning paid tribute in turn to each of the former Greens, noting that it was their skill and passion that had helped increase the party number to 14.

"And we will grow,'' he said.

Many of the MPs introduced themselves in Maori - including Californian-born Ms Genter, American accent and all.

- APNZ

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