Summary – Consultation with the Deaf community on potential amendments to the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006

Office of the Minister for Disability Issues 
Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee 

This is a summary of a Cabinet paper from the Minister for Disability Issues that seeks Cabinet agreement to consult with the Deaf community on three potential amendments to the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 (the NZSL Act). You can see the full Cabinet Paper and other alternate formats at https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/information-releases/cabinet-papers/index.html  

Summary 

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) was recognised as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand when the NZSL Act was passed in 2006. NZSL is important for Deaf people to learn, communicate and participate in our society. Research shows that access to NZSL can lead to positive outcomes for the Deaf community.  

The NZSL Act was created before: 

I (the Minister for Disability Issues) seek agreement to consult on potential amendments the NZSL Act to better reflect these important milestones, and to better reflect the Government’s approach to disability.  

Our (the Labour Government’s) manifesto commitment is to strengthen the mandate (direction) and resourcing of public leadership for the disability community, in consultation with the community. Therefore, I intend to consult the Deaf community about how the NZSL Act could be amended to create a stronger foundation. This foundation is intended to help the government to work in partnership with the Deaf community to support the promotion, maintenance, and acquisition of NZSL as an official language. 

Some ideas to change the Act are: 

  • the NZSL Board becoming a statutory Ministerial advisory group. This would mean that the Board is established in legislation and they could have legal powers to monitor the NZSL Act.  
  • creating a way to monitor the operation of the NZSL Act, particularly how central government agencies are following their responsibilities under the NZSL Act. 
  • reflecting Te Tiriti o Waitangi to support improving outcomes for Tāngata Turi and their whānau. 

These potential amendments have been developed in partnership with the NZSL Board.  

Consultation will take an ‘NZSL first’ approach which means that the focus of engagement will be targeted to the Deaf community, Tāngata Turi and NZSL users. This is to ensure that the Deaf community can share their views in ways that work for them. However, there will be opportunities for the wider New Zealand public to share their views as well.  

Consultation will begin on 7 September 2022 and close on 11 November 2022.   

I expect to report back to this Committee with final policy proposals for amending the NZSL Act in December 2022, when I will seek your (the Committee’s) agreement to issue drafting instructions to the Parliamentary Counsel Office.  

Recommendations 

The Minister for Disability Issues asked for Cabinet to agree to consult with the Deaf community on potential amendments to the NZSL Act, with a focus on options to: 

  • strengthen the mandate for public leadership of the Deaf community  
  • create a mechanism to monitor the operation and implementation of the Act, with a focus on government agencies’ responsibilities under the Act   
  • better reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

The Minister for Disability Issues also asked for Cabinet to invite the Minister for Disability Issues to report back to the Social Wellbeing Committee with final policy proposals for amending the NZSL Act in December 2022. 

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