This election cycle, burning issues such as climate change, housing and migration have taken a back seat to the new hot topics of crime and the cost of living.
But there’s one issue you’ll scarcely hear anything about.
Take a look at Policy.nz’s section on disability – you’ll find one party with 14 policies, four with one and the rest with none.
The Greens are the ones with 14, and they have the big ticket promises – such as introducing income guarantees and bringing back advocacy groups. The Opportunities Party would increase income support for disabled people, Te Pāti Māori would reduce barriers for accessing benefits and Labour would keep its public transport discounts.
On the other hand, National’s one policy is to remove those public transport discounts.
“Disabled people have the same aspirations and dreams that other people have in society,” Disability Connect chairperson Colleen Brown tells The Detail.
“We should be enabling that to happen, rather than putting in policies and practices which don’t allow that to happen.”
So how much progress has been made over the past six years under Labour-led governments? Have new policies allowed disabled people the same “aspirations and dreams” that others have?
“We got a new ministry,” human rights lawyer and disability advocate Dr Huhana Hickey says. “We were told we’d never get it.”
That’s Whaikaha – the Ministry of Disabled People – which launched just last year.
“No political party in Parliament has had any desire to fully implement something about bringing disabled people into Parliament and about giving us our own ministry, equity and our own voice.
“There’s been little bits of it, but it’s always at the desires of whoever’s in control at that time. They don’t value us, they don’t see us.”
She’s happy the ministry exists, but it’s not really what advocates such as herself wanted.
“We wanted an independent entity that could oversee our needs and give us a voice in areas where we really badly need that voice to be heard. Not a big ministry in itself … but we didn’t get to have that.”
The other big gain is the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill which Labour introduced. It plans to introduce an “accessibility committee” to give advice to ministers around disability.
But it’s been widely panned by disability advocates because it’s missing a lot of things like enforcement actions and dispute resolution processes.
“It’s badly written – one of the worst-written bills,” Hickey says.
“Why didn’t they ask some of us disabled lawyers to write it? It’s not well done and quite frankly, it scares me if it gets in, because we actually need a disabilities act that oversees more than just access.”
Neither has the Government fully implemented the 42 recommendations from its Welfare Expert Advisory Group, which would have made a difference for disabled people.
So if we’re only scratching the surface for improvement – how can we really make a difference?
“I counted up how many ministers I’d spoken to on education alone: every minister since 1980,” Brown says.
“You do get a little bit tired of this. Sometimes you do have to be very direct with ministers and with the public servants.”
But she’s worried about the achievements slipping away, with parties like Act promising to abolish the Human Rights Commission, for instance.
She says giving politicians the opportunity to spend time with disabled people and their whānau may help. She’s thinking back to Rodney Hide, former Act leader and associate minister for education.
“He spent some time with a family who had a child in a special school. He suddenly realised how policies restricted the life that this young person could lead. He made sure that a reviewable component in the resources given to this young child and to many others across the country was taken out. What was happening is that you would get a bundle of resources for a year and at the end of that year it could be reviewed… l do take my hat off to Rodney Hide for that.
”Politicians need to understand the lives that ordinary New Zealanders live before they really do create policies which may be restrictive.
“Put disabled people on your boards, put disabled people on your advisories, bring disabled people in with the skills,” Hickey says.
“We’ve gone forward but we’re right at a crossroads … we’ve still got a long way to go. If they fully implemented the welfare report, if they fully implemented some of the recommendations we’d made, if they allowed us the proper funding within the new ministry, maybe we will see ourselves evolve a lot quicker and go a lot further. But we are at a crossroads of regress and that’s the concern.”
Check out how to listen to and follow The Detail here.