NSW Parliamentary proceedings to be translated into Auslan, in groundbreaking first steps towards accessibility for Deaf community

The NSW Parliament's Upper House has this morning committed to a number of groundbreaking steps to make NSW Parliament accessible to the Deaf community. 

This has been prompted by the Upper House Procedure Committee's landmark Inquiry into Auslan interpretation of Parliamentary proceedings, the report for which was released on Tuesday. Abigail Boyd, Greens NSW MP and Disability Spokesperson, initiated the Inquiry. 

The Parliament has today endorsed the Inquiry’s recommendation that, for the first time in NSW’s history, certain proceedings of Parliament be interpreted live into Auslan, so that members of the Deaf community can have immediate access to functions of our Parliament and democracy. 

The report also recommended that a summary of happenings in Parliament, including notable legislation being tabled and debated, be recorded in Auslan and published on the Parliament’s website. This will ensure that the Deaf community can keep up to date with the goings-on in Parliament in their natural language.

The conduct of the Inquiry was groundbreaking in and of itself, with the full day hearing being the first ever NSW Parliamentary proceeding to be translated into Auslan.  

The report can be found on Parliament’s website here.

Abigail Boyd, Greens NSW Upper House MP and Disability Spokesperson, said: 

“The Deaf community is entitled to participate fully in our democracy. But with a lack of live translation of parliamentary procedures, their democratic participation has been denied. 

“Last year Premier Perrottet’s shameless decision to unilaterally scrap Auslan interpretation at Covid pressers sparked universal outrage and highlighted the fact that the Deaf community is cut out of participating in so many parts of our society. 

“I initiated this Inquiry to make some inroads towards a Parliament that is more welcoming and inclusive of people whose natural language is Auslan. I am so pleased to say that with today's commitment we are well on our way.

“When I set up this Inquiry, I was hopeful we would see some progress towards awareness, accessibility, and inclusivity for the Deaf community, but today's powerful commitment to translate key proceedings is beyond my expectations. 

“There is still so much to do to ensure our democracy, and the entirety of our society, is accessible for the Deaf community. But taking this important action in Parliament is an important start.”

Background: 

Text of the motion passed

(1) That this House notes that: 

(a) on 8 November 2022, the President tabled Report No. 16 of the Procedure Committee, "Auslan Interpretation for Broadcasting", dated November 2022, 

(b) to improve access to the proceedings of the Legislative Council for the Deaf community, the Procedure Committee developed a series of recommendations based on the evidence received throughout the inquiry process, and on our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 

(c) the Procedure Committee's recommendations are centred on a pilot program, which is to be implemented in 2023 before being evaluated to determine whether it is meeting the needs of the Deaf community, and 

(d) one of the proposed measures, as part of the pilot program developed by the Procedure Committee, is for Auslan interpretation to be provided for certain proceedings, which could include: 

(i) the Governor's address to the opening of the 58th Parliament, 

(ii) a Question Time to mark the National Week of Deaf People, 

(iii) debates of significance to the Deaf community. 

(2) That this House reiterates its support for the contents of Procedure Committee Report No. 16 into the use of Auslan interpretation for the broadcasting of Legislative Council proceedings. 

(3) That as a first step, and in accordance with recommendation one of the Procedure Committee Report No. 16, this House authorises Auslan interpreters to interpret the following proceedings in 2023: 

(a) the Governor's address to the opening of the 58th Parliament, 

(b) a Question Time to mark the National Week of Deaf People, and 

(c) debates of significance to the Deaf community. 

General Info

Auslan, the majority sign language of the Deaf community in Australia, is a rich, complex, and linguistically and grammatically unique language. It is not a language that represents Australian English ‘on the hands’, but is a visual-spatial language in and of itself. It has been recognised as a community language by the Australian Government since 1987.

The Deaf community (with a capital ‘D’) consists of people who use sign language as their primary form of communication and identify as culturally Deaf, whereas ‘deaf’ (with a lower case ‘d’) refers generally to the physical condition of deafness and ‘hard of hearing’ is a descriptor generally used for people who have acquired hearing loss and may use English as their primary language and/or form of communication. 

The 2021 Census identified 16,242 people who regularly use Auslan in their household within Australia, with 3,986 of those residing in NSW.  If the less extensive users are also included, there are 30,000 users of Auslan across Australia. Additionally, 1 in 6 Australians are deaf. 

Context

Auslan interpreters were present during all regular Covid press conferences under Premier Berejiklian, but under Premier Perrottet Auslan interpretation was absent without notice from pressers relating to vital Covid information, sparking outrage from the Deaf peak bodies and human rights advocates and leaving the Deaf community suddenly without access to urgent health information. The NSW Legislative Council subsequently passed a motion in October 2021 which called on the Perrottet Government to reinstate Auslan interpreters at all media conferences in which statements are made in relation to COVID-19 and/or health orders. 

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