New Ministry for Disabled People Must be Led by a Disabled Person

New Ministry for Disabled People Must be Led by a Disabled Person

December 22, 2021

By Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero

The new Ministry for Disabled People when established next year must be led by a disabled person. This is non-negotiable and I (and I know many others) am insistent the Ministry’s success will depend on its commitment to this principle.

I’m aware of concern in the disability community about the appointment of a non-disabled person - Dr Justine Cornwall to the Establishment Director role of the Establishment Unit. I have heard disabled people are worried this sends an early signal the voices of the disabled community have still not been heard.  

We want to see a clear signal that we have started as we mean to go along – with the full participation of disabled people at the very foundation of the new Ministry. Our experiences of individual exclusion, and the collective exclusion of our community, can be painful and are often deeply felt. 

However, I have also known Dr Cornwall for about 20 years and can give assurances she understands and is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and I’m sure will work to do the very best for our community. So, we must all remember these are not concerns associated with Dr Cornwall per se.

I’ve met with senior MSD officials and expressed these concerns.  I was made aware of some things that give me a greater degree of comfort about the direction:  

  • The process to appoint the permanent CE of the new Ministry is entirely separate from the Establishment Unit role and will be run out of the Public Service Commission which usually appoints CEs. The two roles are very different. 
  • The Machinery of Government Group, which comprises mostly disabled people, is determining the membership of the Community Steering Group and the six disabled members of the Establishment Governance Group, and Co-Chair. The Establishment Unit (including its Director) provides support for this process but is not involved in determining who, and there is no subsequent approval process. 
  • The governance of the Establishment Group is very different to how other entities have been set up - in this case, it is primarily disabled people who will make the decisions and direct the Establishment Director. 

I’ve made it clear (and will continue to do so) the permanent CE appointed next year MUST be disabled.  I will make this point loudly at every opportunity, including to the Public Services Commission. I will also continue to meet with the Establishment Unit. 

This Ministry, in my mind, is about a re-set for disabled people in Aotearoa; it’s about a different and better service delivery model, embedding disability knowledge across the Public Sector and doing heavy lifting on the Policy front to create an equitable and inclusive Aotearoa that leads the way internationally. One of the reasons our community has called for a Ministry for Disabled People is to build more nuanced, consistent and just understandings of disability across government.

This future journey must be led by disabled people. Given its functions, the Ministry must respectfully and thoughtfully involve family (our front-line chief support crew, many of whom are our biggest advocates) and service providers.  

But it must have a disabled person at the helm.