Powhiri for Mr Paul Gibson, newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner responsible for disability issues

  • Tariana Turia
Disability Issues

E nga mana e nga reo, koutou kua huihui mai nei, ka nui taku mihi ki a koutou.

Te Atiawa, tena koutou katoa.

I am so proud to greet everyone today; on this most auspicious occasion.

I want to acknowledge the presence of David Rutherford, the new Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission; Commissioners Dr Judy McGregor, Jeremy Pope and Richard Tankersley.

I thank our interpreters, Wenda Walton and Alan Wendt for helping to support this event.

I am so pleased to welcome everyone here today to this very important moment.

And I mihi particularly to Paul, his wife Ali and their two children on the new journey you are all embarking on today.

I have to admit it feels like it has been a long  time coming.

This year we marked ten years since the New Zealand Disability Strategy was launched : a document driven by the vision that disabled people themselves can say they live in a society that highly values their lives, and continually enhances their full particpation.

With this appointment today I believe we have made significant progress in making a real difference in the lives of disabled persons.   In late 2009 I began advocating for a dedicated Disability Commissioner in the Human Rights Commission to promote and protect the rights of disabled people.

We have come a long way - and we still have a long way to go.

Today we are thrilled to welcome Paul Gibson into this very significant role.   He brings with him an impressive record of advocacy for disabled persons in education and health, as well as valuable skills and experience across many disability reference groups.

I have always believed it is essential to have a dedicated focus on the rights of people with disabilities. And I am so pleased that with Paul now officially in the role, we have succeeded in establishing a strong independent mechanism to promote, protect and monitor our implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In Budget 2010 I announced that the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsmen and the Convention Coalition of disabled peoples organisations were taking on the vitally important task of taking responsibility for the promotion, protection and monitoring of our progress under the Convention.

I am so very proud that New Zealand can face the world, and be held to account for our performance in the ways we have sought to improve the lives and well-being of people with disabilities.

And I expect and invite Paul to be courageous; to be free and frank with us all about how well we are doing in addressing some of the challenges that disabled persons face.

I am sure that everyone here today would recognise the impact of prejudice and stigma on the lives of the disabled, ranging from name calling at school, lower expectations which can become self-fulfilling, and discrimination in employment, in housing, in educational achievement, in income levels; in lifestyle.

Paul has a huge job in front of him – but I am absolutely confident he is up for the challenge.

Paul first became involved in disability rights at university, where in 1993 he helped set up CAN DO, a group run by disabled students

At the time disabled people were becoming more politicised. They were naming discrimination where it existed and increasingly defining themselves in social rather than medical terms.

I love the emphasis behind a can do mentality – that we focus on what we each are capable of rather than the limitations or barriers ahead.

Paul has certainly demonstrated this philosophy as the driving force in his life.  

His lived experience of disability in being defined as legally blind, has inspired him to ensure disabled people are able to take up the right, and the capability to develop and pursue aspirations they have set for their life.

Career wise this has included being an independent Disability Consultant, Senior Disability Advisor at Capital and Coast District Health Board, and the National Policy and Strategy Manager CCS Disability Action.

He has been a passionate and powerful advocate as the

  • National President Disabled Persons Assembly 1997-2000
  • Member of Ministerial Advisory Group on Review of Special Education 2009-2010
  • Member of the Human Rights Commission Disability Experts Panel 2010-2011
  • And a Member of the Steering Group for the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Just over three weeks ago, over 500 delegates including 78 non-governmental organizations with more than 300 representatives, were gathering at a United Nations forum in New York under the theme "Enabling Development, Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

Daniela Bas, from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs emphasized that persons with disabilities must enjoy equal opportunities.   I thought her statement was worth revisiting on this very special day for disability issues in Aotearoa New Zealand.

"It can take decades to change attitudes and behaviours deeply ingrained in cultures.  The UN has been focusing on a people-centred, developmental approach to disability."

I don’t want or expect to wait for decades for our attitudes towards disability to change.  

Independent monitoring sends  a very clear message that we are all doing everything possible to achieve the vision of a fully inclusive society.

This little country of ours, is thoroughly immersed in the possibilities of success as we head towards the Rugby World Cup final and celebrate the opportunity for the Warriors to take on the NRL.  

But today there’s only one story in town – and that’s our decision as a nation to lead the world in achieving a fully inclusive society.

I wish Paul great courage and creativity in taking up this very important opportunity as the first Commissioner for Disability Issues.