Nicky Wagner, the National government’s Minister for Disability Issues and Associate Minister Health, tweeted last week on what she’d rather be doing instead of her actual job,
Busy with Disability meetings in Auckland- rather be out on the harbour! pic.twitter.com/1i9O86hvod
— Nicky Wagner MP (@nickywagner) June 15, 2017
Understandably many people are unimpressed. Twitter responses,
Well sorry for taking up your precious time by having a disability. I'd rather not have to think about it either. Ugh. #changethegovt
— Laura (@fuzzywuzzie) June 17, 2017
Then resign and give your position to someone with integrity and compassion. Shame on you.
— Mandy Hager (@MandyHager) June 17, 2017
This woman is paid with our tax-payer dollars to support the vulnerable. Clearly time she is booted out. https://t.co/7r5Pb0iiWq
— Mandy Hager (@MandyHager) June 17, 2017
I really question her commitment to the disability sector if she'd rather be on the harbour than meeting them https://t.co/MNseV1TslQ
— Mojo Mathers (@mojomathers) June 17, 2017
Working very hard at her aspirational portfolio for Minister of Harbour Views
— Popi Mokorahi đč (@Megapope) June 17, 2017
We will all stand by and watch for your 'clarification and apology.' See Alfred Ngaro for further help.
— Duncan Garner (@DuncanGarnerNZ) June 17, 2017
Had a fantastic day with Murray Halberg Trust, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner & the NZ Artificial Limb Service.
— Nicky Wagner MP (@nickywagner) June 17, 2017
really? your response to backlash is to double down and refuse to apologise?? I hope you end up on the news for this.
— ask the traffic lights if itâll be alright #BLM (@gamerswift13) June 17, 2017
So Wagner tweeted thoughtlessly and just brought her party a start of the week public slap down, but what’s the big deal? As someone with a disability I’d say there are a range of intersecting issues here and three main things to look at. One is that NZ is not that great on disability issues. We do some good things, but we do some seriously bad things too, and many people with disabilities are struggling unnecessarily. That’s the context that the Minister tweeted in.
Another is that it’s a Minister’s job to show competency in her field, and competency in disability issues includes having enough social, cultural and political intelligence to understand what ableism is. In this case, Wagner wants to go boating. For many people with disabilities such a thing is impossible due to the nature of their disability, or to access issues, or due to them living with a disability in NZ and facing additional barriers like being able to financially afford recreation.
You just don’t say that shit when around people with disabilities when you have a huge amount of power in the system that directly impacts on those people. Not only is it rude and insensitive, but for the people that are working hard on disability issues whether that be in the sector or in their own lives, it comes across as ignorant. To make matters worse, her subsequent tweets are evasive of the problem with the original tweet, and come across as casual. Why should we trust someone in that position who lacked the social and cultural intelligence to manage the portfolio well?
Then there is National’s performance on disability issues. Austerity is always going to come down hard on people with vulnerabilities that aren’t well recognised or accepted by society. I’m not even going to link to back these up, because they are legion. The Bennett welfare reforms (including removal of Sickness Benefit), housing (including people with disabilities living in cars), ongoing attempts to privatise ACC and its culture of client bashing, serious lack of funding for mental health (including in high stress areas like Christchurch), underfunding for DHB’s and the flow on effect in accessing services, these are all broad-stroke areas that under National’s watch have directly harmed people with disabilities and that’s not even getting to areas of specific disabilities.
There is enough here for National to be ashamed of already, and so it’s that context that I see Wagner’s tweet in as well. In an ideal world where the government was actively on the side of people with disabilities, this would be a mistake that she apologised for and we moved on. National’s problem is that how they treat disabled people sucks, so mistakes like this loom much larger, and you really can’t apologise for that.Â She was no doubt being thoughtless, but her government’s policies are anything but, they are being implemented exactly as intended.