Bring Back Auslan Interpreters

Today Abigail advocated in Parliament for those in our community who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind, calling on the Government to reinstate Auslan interpreters at all important media conferences. 

Abigail successfully passed a motion in the Upper House recognising Thursday the 23rd September 2021 as International Day of Sign Languages. However, the Government did not support the call to reinstate Auslan interpreters at all Covid-19 related media conferences. 

 

Abigail moved the following (20:36): 

(1) That this House notes that:

(a) Thursday 23 September 2021 was International Day of Sign Languages, a day which celebrates the human rights of people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind, and raises awareness of the importance of sign language in disability inclusion and participation;

(b) according to the Australian Network on Disability, one in six Australians is deaf;

(c) according to AbSec, the NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under 15 are 3.4 times more likely to be deaf; and

(d) there exist significant gaps in research and education of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) in New South Wales, which creates barriers to inclusion and participation of vital members of the New South Wales community.

(2) That this House notes that, after failing to provide an Auslan interpreter during press conferences relating to easing COVID‑19 restrictions on 10 and 11 October, the Government confirmed on 12 October 2021 that Auslan interpretation will no longer be provided at press conferences at which the Chief Health Officer and/or Deputy Health Officer are not present.

(3) That this House calls on the Government to create a more inclusive, equitable and accessible community for all people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind by improving access across New South Wales to quality sign language education, including early access to sign language services which are important to the growth and development of people who are deaf.

(4) That this House calls on the New South Wales Government to immediately reinstate Auslan interpreters at all media conferences in which statements are made in relation to COVID-19 and/or health orders.

 

Abigail: Over the past almost four months of lockdown, millions of people across New South Wales have tuned in daily to the 11.00 a.m. press conferences, anxiously awaiting updates on the COVID‑19 situation and the toll that the Delta variant has taken on our communities. As restrictions tightened and eased, our work and family lives changed and we all adjusted to the unprecedented impact of the pandemic on the way we live. Then the 70 per cent vaccination date came, so‑called Freedom Day. Many of us tuned in to find out exactly what the new Premier, with his sudden changes to the road map to freedom, would be allowing us to do—except for the 30,000 signing people nationally that use interpreters.

For Auslan users the 11.00 a.m. press conference on COVID restrictions was suddenly and without notice incomprehensible, with the previously reliable live Auslan interpretation absent without any explanation. The Premier's office has since confirmed that it will make no commitments to have Auslan interpreters present at its press conferences, except at pressers hosted by NSW Health. During an unprecedented global pandemic, when it is reasonable to assume that questions asked by the press may relate to public health and safety whether the original press conference is directly related to it or not, that is just not good enough. In refusing to provide Auslan interpretation, the Government is effectively locking deaf and hard‑of‑hearing people out of our democracy and putting public health at risk by limiting the reach of information about COVID.

The motion I am moving today calls on the Government to ensure that Auslan interpreters are present at all pressers at which statements are made about COVID or health orders. It does not even go so far as to call for Auslan interpretation at all government press conferences, which should be the minimum standard of accessibility. I first moved this motion last week as formal business, thinking that the Government would see the importance for public health and accept this absolute bare-minimum ask. But the Government objected, so I move this motion for debate today. I have been informed that the Government's Auslan interpretation contract provides for an interpreter to be available and on standby for the Government, with technology available to provide interpretation remotely if need be. While there is most certainly a need for more Auslan interpreters nationally, that is not an excuse that the Government can hide behind. The decision by the Premier's office to not use these services is not even a matter of convenience. It is a clear message to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and people with disability more broadly, that their needs are not important to this Government.

In 2007 Australia signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires the Federal Government, and the State governments by extension, to provide equal access to information and communications including through live sign language interpretation. But 14 years later, most governments in Australia, including both the New South Wales and the Federal governments, do not ensure that their communications are accessible. To my knowledge, the Victorian Government is the only government in the country that aims to provide live Auslan interpretation at all of their press conferences. I note that in the rare circumstances where an interpreter is unavailable—for example, where there is insufficient notice of an impromptu press conference—there is explicit acknowledgement of the failure to provide that Auslan interpretation at that time. In contrast, the office of the Premier has stated:

As NSW returns to a more normal setting and emerges from COVID-19 there will be a range of media events, some of which may include the services of Auslan interpreters and some of which may not.

How is that acceptable? All information intended for the public should be accessible to the entirety of the public. One in six of us is hard of hearing and 30,000 people across the country require Auslan interpreters. There is no excuse for restricting live access to government communications to a select few, and certainly not for government communications about COVID and health orders. The idea that people who require an Auslan interpreter need to tune in to a particular press conference to find out if they will be able to understand it because it is at the Premier's whim is absurd. We need to do so much more to be compliant with our human rights obligations. All we are asking for in this motion is the absolute bare minimum. I commend the motion to the House.

 

In response, LNP MP Scott Farlow said (20:41): 

The Government does not oppose the motion by Ms Abigail Boyd, but we place on record the important work we are doing in creating inclusive communities for all people with a disability. 

...

We are moving to a different time in the COVID-19 pandemic response. We are moving to a time when we are living with COVID, and the status of the press conferences undertaken by the Premier are returning to more of a normal setting rather than the crisis emergency setting, as has been the case with COVID-19 pandemic information. As such, and as has out been outlined by Ms Abigail Boyd in her contribution, a different setting is being undertaken by the Premier's office in the Premier's press conferences.

 

To conclude the debate, Abigail said:

Having listened to the Government's response, I understand what has been said—that we now are moving to more normal settings—but when you go from not doing anything that you are supposed to do, to then doing it some of the time, and then going back to not doing the thing that we are supposed to do, the Government's response is not a very good argument. This is something that we should be doing for every Government press conference. It is something that Victoria managed to do. I do not understand why we cannot do it. The resources are there. It is vitally important to involve a really important segment of our community in our democracy. If we were actually complying with our human rights obligations and doing what is being done in many other countries around the world, we would have Auslan interpreters interpreting what I am saying right now. That is actually what our minimum requirements are.

In this motion all we are asking for is for the Government to at least put in Auslan interpretation for when we are discussing issues in a global pandemic that may turn to issues about health, lockdown and restrictions. I ask that the Premier reconsider his position on this because it sends a message not just to the Deaf community and the hard-of-hearing community but to all people with a disability that they just do not matter. It is so very damaging for that message to be sent by this Government at this time. It causes great concern when we see that along with issues like the failure to include the minimum accessibility standards in the National Construction Code within our legislation. The people with a disability in New South Wales are feeling, rightfully, overlooked and disrespected. The least we could do is have Auslan interpreters at Government press conferences.

 

The motion was agreed to.

 

The full debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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