ACT senator David Pocock denied Auslan interpreter for first speech in Senate

by Amy Remeikis
Major parties vote against allowing ‘stranger’ into Senate, while government offers screens to display interpreter as compromise

Independent ACT senator David Pocock has had his request for an Auslan interpreter in the Senate to translate his first speech denied by the major parties, who are worried about the “precedent” it would set.

Pocock, who will deliver his first speech to the Senate on Monday, had agreed to have an Auslan interpreter stand by his side, live translating his words for the hearing impaired.

The government has now offered to have screens on the floor of the Senate displaying an interpreter as a compromise.

Pocock said he would continue pursuing better accessibility.

“While disappointed that the major parties were unwilling to grant my request to have an Auslan interpreter on the floor, and the message this sends, I’m glad that there will be some measures in place to enable live translating, even though it isn’t in the inclusive and welcoming way our deaf community had hoped for,” he said

“I welcome Senator Wong’s commitment to pursuing better accessibility through the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure.

“Clearly we still have some way to go when it comes to aligning the lived values of the parliament with those of the people we have been elected to represent.”

The original request would have required permission for a “stranger” to stand on the floor of the Senate, a rarity in Australian parliamentary procedure that is usually reserved for visiting dignitaries.

Under the Senate rules, Pocock was required to ask both major parties and the Greens for permission for a “stranger on the floor”.

The Greens supported the move, which would have been an Australian first. But both the government and opposition blocked the move, over concerns it would set a precedent to invite more “strangers” into the chamber.

Stott Despoja had campaigned for better access for the deaf community during her time in the senate, driven by some of the barriers she had seen her mother encounter.

Nearly a decade and a half later, the fight has been taken up by Pocock, who said he would work with the department that oversees the parliament, and the Senate to improve access.

People want a better, more collaborative parliament and that is what I want to help achieve,” he said.

“For me, that means making our parliament more inclusive. I don’t want some people in our community to feel excluded, or separate.”

It is not the first time Pocock had publicly lent his support to making hearing spaces more inclusive for the hearing impaired.

@mirandadevine it was actually Auslan/sign language for clapping. I have a friend who's first language is Auslan so it was for her…

— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) April 24, 2015

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@mirandadevine it was actually Auslan/sign language for clapping. I have a friend who’s first language is Auslan so it was for her…

— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) April 24, 2015