Disabled advocates have criticized the federal government and the opposition for not allowing a newly elected senator to have an Auslan interpreter by his side during his maiden speech.
Independent ACT Senator David pocock made the request to the chamber after being asked by community members to consider having his speech translated live for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
It would be the first time that a speech on the floor of the hall was translated into sign language.
Senate conventions require government, opposition and crossbench approval to have a “stranger in the house,” which Senator pocock requested that an interpreter be able to stand next to him and participate in the broadcast.
Obviously the Greens agreed to have an Auslan interpreter on the floor of the room, but the government and opposition declined the request, worrying about the precedent it would set.
Advocacy for Inclusion policy chief Craig Wallace told AAP that the organization will write to Senate President Sue Lines about their dismay at the decision, reiterating the need for inclusion.
Parliament should not be exempted from anti-discriminatory measures that other Australian workplaces follow, Wallace said.
‘Deaf people vote’
“Parliament should model the practices it urges the rest of the community to adhere to when it comes to inclusion,” he said.
“Deaf people vote and they have the right to hear in their own language from the people they voted for, not only in the first speeches, but also in debates and proceedings.”
In a statement, Deaf Australia said it was deeply concerned about the government and opposition’s lack of foresight and attention to accessibility.
The major parties have proven that inclusion and accessibility “is never a certainty in political institutions,” the statement said.
With one in six Australians with hearing loss, Senator pocock said it was important for everyone to be more inclusive.
“People want a better, more collaborative parliament and that’s what I want to help achieve,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“For me, that means we need to make our parliament more inclusive. I don’t want some people in our community to feel left out or separated.”
Auslan translation is a regular feature of public communication during the COVID-19 pandemic, with interpreters standing alongside state, territory and federal leaders during public updates.
Mr Wallace said the Senate decision reflected a misconception of the integral role interpreters have and the need for Auslan to be available in more institutions.
“This decision is not inclusive. It’s unreasonable and it’s problematic,” he said.
Although he emphasized, he appreciates the tradition and convention of the upper room, Senator pocock said there was a strong case for updating the practice and better reflect community values.
“I am disappointed that the major parties have not supported my request to have an Auslan translator next to me on the floor of the Senate for my first speech,” he said.
“Not only would this have provided a practical solution, it would have sent a strong signal of inclusion.”
The senator said he would work with the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Senate to ensure his maiden speech is accessible to anyone watching from a distance or in the public gallery.