Appointment irks disabled community

Amy Taylor, of Mosgiel, says the new Ministry for Disabled People needs to represent the disabled...
Amy Taylor, of Mosgiel, says the new Ministry for Disabled People needs to represent the disabled community from the start. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
"Nothing about us, without us" was the promise when the establishment of the new Ministry for Disabled People was announced. But members of the disabled community are frustrated by one of the first major appointments, of someone who does not identify as disabled. Simon Henderson reports.

A local member of the disabled community has created a petition calling on the Government to remove the executive director of the unit directing the establishment of the new Ministry for Disabled People.

Former deputy Children’s Commissioner Justine Cornwall was announced as executive director of the establishment governance group for the new ministry just before Christmas.

Executive committee member of the Disabled Persons Assembly and secretary of the Otago Deaf Society Amy Taylor, of Mosgiel, said she was angry at the appointment because Ms Cornwall was not disabled.

Speaking in a personal capacity as a member of the Dunedin disabled community, Dr Taylor said Ms Cornwall’s appointment was unacceptable and set a poor precedent.

The disabled community was promised establishment of the ministry would follow the ethos of "nothing about us, without us", she said.

"It looks already in these early times it has not been the case."

The establishment unit consisted of three senior officials and six disabled people — three tangata whaikaha (disabled Maori) and three non-Maori.

It was "simply not good enough" that the leader of the establishment unit did not have "lived experience" of a disability, Dr Taylor said.

"The leader needs to identify as disabled; the entire steering group needs to be disabled people — the only possible exception would be a direct family carer of a disabled person."

Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said it was understandable disabled people were disappointed that someone who did not identify as disabled was appointed.

It did not give confidence to disabled leadership to have such a public and important position be taken by a non-disabled person.

"It doesn’t give much faith to disabled people as a community because the establishment of this ministry is about removing barriers and doing things differently for disabled people," Ms Walker said.

There were disabled people who would have the appropriate skills for the role.

"I think often when recruiting specifically for a role related to a marginalised community we often need to think about the recruitment process differently."

Ms Walker questioned the timing of the announcement only a few days before Christmas, when some would have already finished work for the year.

"I think people are a bit disappointed about the timing of the announcement.

"Intentional or not, I don’t think that shines the light of importance that this matter deserves, really."

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive people and capability Stephen Crombie said the establishment of the Ministry for Disabled People was led by disabled people and embodied the principle of "nothing about us without us".

"The new ministry launches on July 1, 2022, leaving a tight timeframe for its establishment, and announcing the head of the establishment unit in December was vital to keep people updated on progress and ensure the new ministry was up and running by July," he said.

Disabled New Zealanders would oversee and have a voice in every aspect of building the new ministry.

The establishment unit was tasked with laying the groundwork to ensure the new ministry got off to the best possible start.

This included transferring disability support services from the Ministry of Health to the new ministry and setting up any new functions that would be important from day 1.

"We’ve worked hard to ensure disabled people and whanau are encouraged and welcomed to apply for positions in the unit.

"Disabled people are actively involved in screening and shortlisting, and were on the recruitment panels for all key roles."

Ms Cornwall had been appointed executive director of the establishment unit for a limited period, and Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission would oversee a separate process to appoint the new ministry’s chief executive, he said.

"Ms Cornwall was considered the most appropriate person for the role by a recruitment panel comprised of agency, disabled community and tangata whaikaha Maori representatives. She has a combination of lived experience as whanau whaikaha, as well as a background in disability policy and the establishment of new government entities."