Toku awa. (My River)
Ko toku ora (Is my life)
Toku awa. (My River)
Ko toku mana (is my authority)
Toku awa. (My River)
Ko toku kaha (is my power)
Toku awa. (My River)
Ko toku wai rua (is my double spirit)
My river is my life.
Mr Speaker, it was the desire to save a very special river, the Waikirikiri, which led directly to my involvement in politics.
Twelve years ago I moved out of Christchurch to the village of Coalgate in the foothills of the Canterbury Plains with my former husband and three small children.
The location was ideal for us, close to a small country school, with the peaceful Waikirikiri flowing past our doorstep and amazing views of the mountains.
But shortly after moving there, we found that there were ambitious plans to build a massive water storage dam for irrigation just upstream of us.
If the dam went ahead, the beautiful Waikirikiri would become an ugly fast flowing canal, too dangerous for kids to go swimming in.
The dam would also destroy private land protected by a QEII covenant, including two raised spring fed peat bogs, which pollen analysis showed to be thousands of years old.
I recall standing with my husband at the bottom of our property looking upstream towards the Wairiri Valley, wondering what we should do.
Should we spend time and energy fighting the proposed scheme or should we resign ourselves to it going ahead?
At that time we had a small business offering forestry management services, mainly to farmers on the Canterbury plains and foothills.
We had witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of prolonged drought.
But we also knew that the scheme was not about drought proofing, but about land intensification.
It would allow yet more farms to convert to intensive dairying and dairy support; land uses dependent on high inputs of energy, water and fossil fuels.
It was clear to us that our ground water and our rivers were at risk.
So we decided to try and stop the dam and highlight to the wider public the down side of intensive farming.
As part of this campaign we networked with other committed people across Canterbury, all of us united by a desire to protect Canterbury's water.
Some of this fight is covered in Sam Mahon's book "The Water Thieves."
Mr Speaker, it was during this time that I became disillusioned with the politics of both Labour and National.
It seemed to me that neither were willing or able to grasp the seriousness of the threats facing our water.
So - in part inspired by the late Rod Donald - who was my neighbour prior to his election to parliament - I joined the Green Party and stood as a candidate for the first time in the 2005 general election.
Mr Speaker, when I first stood, I had no concept of what huge challenges lay ahead of me as a deaf candidate and activist.
I just wanted to speak out in defence of our water and our environment and be heard.
But I learned the hard way that passion and knowledge are not enough.
I had to find different ways of doing politics, ways of getting around the barriers posed by being deaf, ways that allowed me to engage and participate effectively.
I started learning New Zealand Sign Language and using sign language interpreters when I spoke to submissions to the local city and regional councils.
I am absolutely thrilled that there are New Zealand Sign Language interpreters in the Chamber today, and note that it is the first time in New Zealand that a maiden speech is being covered in this way.
Mr Speaker, I hope that this will be the start of greater recognition by Parliament of the status of New Zealand Sign as our third official language.
I want to thank all those who campaigned to get the New Zealand Sign Language Act passed into law and the role played by the former Minister for Disability Issues, the Honourable Ruth Dyson, in facilitating this process.
The effects of this Act have been positive for many, but there is still a long way to go before the Act is implemented as it should be.
For example, as a mother of three children, I find it unacceptable that some Deaf parents are unable to attend parent teacher interviews to discuss their children's progress, as is their right, because the school will not provide New Zealand Sign Language interpreters.
I want to acknowledge the dedicated people who campaigned for New Zealand to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
New Zealand signed the Convention on 30th March, 2007 under a Labour government, and ratified it on 26th September, 2008, under a National government.
Article 29 of the Convention guarantees the right of persons with disabilities to effectively and fully participate in political and public life, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected.
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.
Mr Speaker, it is a huge honour to be representing this community in the House, and I take this responsibility seriously.
High on my list of goals for this parliament is to advocate for improved access to information and communication services for deaf, hearing and vision impaired.
Simple things like improving captioning and audio description of television, DVD's and internet, enable access to our culture and to services.
Until recently, New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of television captioning in the developed world. Even Uganda had higher rates than us.
This situation has improved recently with the introduction of closed captioning by Sky TV on many of its channels - a move that I celebrate as it will make a real difference for many of us.
But while access to TV has improved, full access to information around the political debate and to democratic participation remains out of reach of many.
Mr Speaker, we need captioning of Parliament TV so that all New Zealanders with a hearing impairment have full access to the political debate, a right that that we have under the Convention.
At the moment, because Parliament TV is not captioned, I am relying on electronic notetakers to follow the debate in the chamber.
While they do an excellent job, and parliamentary staff have worked very hard getting around the technical challenges, it is not an ideal solution, in part because they will not always be available when a bill comes up that I need to speak to.
Mr Speaker, I made the point yesterday that funding for electronic notetakers and equipment should not be coming out of my support budget, which all members receive, because no MP with a disability should be expected to fund their participation in the house in this way.
To put the cost in context, a few years ago, Parliament spent nearly $1m upgrading the audio system in the chamber so that MPs could hear better.
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.
I would now like to acknowledge the love and aroha that I have had over the years from my family, friends and supporters, sustaining me through all the ups and downs of my political journey into Parliament.
Many of them, including my three beautiful children, are here in the gallery today.
Thank you all, I could not have done it without you.
Your love is what gives me the strength to stand here today.
I am also motivated by the knowledge that so much has been invested in me from my earliest years.
Mr Speaker, 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 onto my body.
Given this very late start in language development, I would never have caught up with my peers had it not been for two key things.
Firstly, I am fortunate to have an amazing and totally dedicated mother who, once she knew I could not hear, spent many, many hours with me teaching me basic speech and reading skills before I even started school, to ensure that I would not be left behind.
Secondly, I have had the benefit of extensive intervention and support throughout my childhood, including three years at the Mary Hare School for Deaf in England, where class sizes ranged from 6 to 10 pupils and the focus was on high academic achievement.
Mr Speaker, 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.
While disability issues are obviously high on my agenda, I do have other issues I am keen to progress, particularly in the areas of food and animal welfare.
At the moment, far too many animals in New Zealand suffer needless and prolonged pain and suffering, both on intensive farms and in experimentation.
I grew up eating meat produced on our own farm, but when I left, I became vegetarian, because I could not be sure that the meat I ate would come from animals that had been treated well.
Likewise I avoid eggs from battery hens because of the cruelty and suffering involved in their production.
I am delighted that the UK has banned cages for hens and I look forwards to the day the last hen is released from her cage in New Zealand.
Mr Speaker, while staying true to the Green Party kaupapa and to those I represent, I pledge to work constructively and with an open mind with everyone from all sides of the House, to advance issues wherever we can find common ground.