30 May 2013

Backlash grows over disabled carers bill

10:20 pm on 30 May 2013

There is a growing backlash against the Government's disabled carers legislation, with the Labour Party complaining to Parliament's Speaker and the Ombudsman about the rushed way the law was enacted.

The Law Society also announced on Thursday that it plans to go to the United Nations over issue.

Ruth Dyson.

Ruth Dyson. Photo: LABOUR PARTY

The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (No 2) was rushed through under urgency in one day following the Budget earlier in May, without select committee scrutiny or public input.

The legislation caps payments for family carers at 40 hours a week, enables them to be paid less than others, limits their rights of judicial review and prevents legal action by new claimants. Spouses cannot be paid.

Labour's disability issues spokesperson has laid two formal complaints in a bid to have the Government's heavily-censored legal advice on the legislation made public in full.

Ruth Dyson hopes the Government will be forced to fully release its advice on the effects of the bill.

"Absolutely, or provide some ruling on why it is justifiable to withhold that information. I suspect that it was really inconvenient for the Government to have that information released - and that is, frankly, not a good enough reason to withhold it from the Parliament and the public."

The chief executive of CCS Disability Action, David Matthews, says he has only heard negative feedback.

"Everybody who has talked to me about the legislation have raised concerns about the haste, the fact it was taken under urgency, and have expressed concerns about the withdrawal of rights to take grievances and that this might be the thin edge of the wedge."

Law Society to inform UN

Despite flagging that the legislation contravenes the Bill of Rights, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson voted for it.

The Law Society has written to him, citing serious concerns about the content of the law and the way it was passed. President Chris Moore says it is alarming of Parliament to limit people's rights of judicial review - without scrutiny - and to rush legislation without providing a reason.

Law Society member Austin Forbes, QC, says the legislation is unconstitutional and discriminatory, and the society is concerned at the lack of select committee scrutiny, public submissions or informed debate.

Mr Forbes says the society will make reference to the issue in a report it is preparing for the UN on human rights in New Zealand.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has yet to respond to the letter. However, the Prime Minister says he has no problems with the Law Society informing the UN.

John Key says the Government has done the right thing and taken the steps it believes are appropriate for family carers.

Mr Key says it allocated $94 million in the 2013 Budget to be able to honour the issue of parents being paid as caregivers to look after adult family members with disabilities.

But the Green Party says it will be horribly embarrassing for the Government to have the legislation scrutinised on the world stage. MP Jan Logie says it should be ashamed of the way the bill was passed.

"Politically embarrassing, absolutely. New Zealand has led the development of the convention around people with disabilities. And now, this Government has undermined our constitution to deny some of those rights - it's horribly embarrassing."