More funding, better access to support services and equal employment opportunities were the common themes at a meet the local candidates forum in Tauranga.
The Western Bay of Plenty Disability Support Trust held the forum at the Tauranga Citizens Club today, which was attended by about 70 people in addition to the candidates for the upcoming general election.
The trust advocates for support and information services for people with disabilities in the Western Bay of Plenty area.
The forum was attended by National Party Tauranga electorate MP Simon Bridges, Labour Party list MP for Tauranga Jan Tinetti, Erika Harvey (NZ First, Tauranga), Josh Cole (Green Party, Tauranga), Margaret Colmore (New Conservative Party, Bay of Plenty) and Chris Jenkins (The Opportunities Party, Bay of Plenty).
Each of the six candidates got the chance to make a five-minute presentation to the disability sector community members, then took written questions from the floor.
Each candidate was asked to say what the word "disability" meant to them and how their party would best support people with disabilities to live a fulfilling life.
Most of the candidates drew on personal or family experiences of the challenge of living with a disability and the inequities in access to funding and support.
Erika Harvey said her daughter Piper was autistic and she had battled for years for greater access to funding and support, not only for her child but others in the disability sector.
"As NZ First party candidate I want to see the focus brought back on gaining a better understanding of what the needs of people with disabilities are," she said.
"New Zealand First's approach is about taking a very practical approach in getting people around talking at the table how best to achieve that.
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"We have done significant investment when it comes to learning support, mental health and we have just announced $10 million for Gumboot Friday, which we are going to
do around mental health and counselling and things like that."
Simon Bridges said it had been a privilege to be the MP for Tauranga for 12 years.
"When I think of a disability, I think about one of my children, who was born with an incredibly bad club foot. And we know the truth of that is even 30 or 40 years ago he would have been left with severe disabilities.
"I'm so grateful to our amazing health service and the agency that meant while he still had pain and some issues, they are nowhere near severe as they would have been.
He said National had very clear strategies, including on employability and enabling good lives.
"It effectively means making sure we continue to partner with NGOs [non-government organisations] and the disability sector, and people with disabilities, to get more choice, more control and more employment opportunities for those with disabilities."
Bridges said closing the employment gap for people with disabilities and improving their opportunities to work was "incredibly important" as it led to better lives.
Margaret Colmore, who with her husband runs a bed and breakfast in Oropi, said she was passionate about having fewer regulations and promoting positive social values and policies.
"Firstly, New Conservative stands for life. The very sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb. And that is why we are so strongly opposing the changes to the abortion laws that have made an unborn baby the same status as a gallbladder."
Colmore said New Conservative would make it a coalition condition that this law was repealed and it also opposed the legalisation of cannabis and the End of Life Choice Act.
"We are committed to increasing funding for the best palliative care possible."
Chris Jenkins said that about six years ago he had a motor scooter accident which left him with multiple fractures and he was in a wheelchair for a time.
During his recovery journey, he learnt a lot about the gaps in access for those with disabilities and the differences in how people with disabilities were treated, he said.
"The Opportunities Party has written quite detailed policy for those in the disability space and our health policy is about ensuring greater access to funding and services."
Jenkins said this included the party's universal basic income policy, which would mean more funding support not just for people with disabilities but carers and volunteers too.
Josh Cole, who introduced himself as someone who grew up with undiagnosed autism, said he was now married, with two daughters also living with autism.
Cole spoke about his passion to stand up against social injustices, including addressing the significant underfunding in mental health services and disability support services.
He said the Green Party wanted to rewrite some of the rules around the disability sector to give every New Zealand the "same equal opportunities".
Jan Tinetti said her experience of people with disabilities was through her sister, who had been in supported living for the past 25 years and in her time at Merivale School.
She said the Labour Government was committed to ensuring better access to funding and support both through its policies and legislation, including the Disability Action Plan launched in November 2019 and the Draft Disability Employment Action Plan announced in the past few weeks.
"The Labour-led Government is committed to building an inclusive and acceptable Aotearoa, and that is something I am really passionate about, and that includes ensuring we have pathways for people who have disabilities into employment," she said.
The general election will be held on October 17.