See you later MSD!

Reflections from Brian Coffey, Director, and members of the Office of Disability Issues as we move from MSD to the new Ministry for Disabled People.

Today the ODI staff are packing up their desks to make the long trek to... a couple of floors lower in the building as we join the new Ministry For Disabled People (name to be confirmed). While our work will continue basically unchanged, our Director Brian Coffey has some words on where we've been and where we're going. 

We have built on the work of others

I joined ODI in early 2017 just after the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016-2026 was agreed by the Government. It’s important, as such, to acknowledge that we benefit from the mahi of those who have previously worked in the Office from 2002 when it was first stood up.

Demand for advice has grown and we have welcomed the opportunity to grow to respond

The ODI team in 2017 consisted of 6.3 full time staff. It was a small group with big responsibilities. We have become a bigger group as demand for ODI advice has grown. For instance, we have kept data since 2017 on workflow through the ODI inbox, which captures public enquiries, requests for advice from other agencies, requests for advice to the Minister. From January to June 2018, we had 264 enquiries and requests for advice. Three years later, demand has grown more than threefold. In July to Dec 2021, there were 844 enquiries and requests for advice. All of these public enquiries and requests for advice are opportunities to make progress for disabled people. Even when our advice and guidance may have challenged rather than endorse the position and/or view being proposed.

The demand for advice has been acknowledged and the value of the office has been recognised through budget support. Today, the ODI team has about 18 full time staff working on a broad range of issues that extend beyond responding to requests.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy and UNCRPD informs our advice and work

The New Zealand Disability Strategy, based on the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Te Tiriti, provided an important framework to shape ODI’s advice and (small “a”) advocacy across government on disability policy. This included promoting the need for better data to inform policy, improved monitoring and evaluation to assess progress, and increased engagement of officials with disabled people.

Implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy is through the Disability Action Plan (2019 -2023), which identifies 29 programmes of work across government to progress the eight outcomes in the Strategy. In the three years since its introduction, the Action Plan has been an important mechanism to progress the Strategy. The Action Plan, however, not only guides policy and service development undertaken by agencies and ODI, it is also an important mechanism to progress the rights and opportunities of disabled people.

We have international obligations and expectations

Internationally a highlight has been ODI’s involvement with MFAT in Sir Robert Martin’s re-election to the United Nations Disability Rights Committee. Supporting the Minister at United Nations forums has been important work and valued by the United Nations.

The new Ministry of Disabled People, too, has received considerable coverage overseas, as it is acknowledged as a “first-of-its-kind”. No other country has a department or Ministry focused primarily on disability issues, and the new Ministry is a product of the hard work of the community, the MSD policy team, the Ministry of Health, and disability community leaders.

The NZSL Board and NZSL Strategy

We continue to support and observe the work of the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Board, giving effect to the NZSL Strategy. We have witnessed the growth in governance expertise of the NZSL Board and their commitment to Te Tiriti through enabling tangata turi Maori to develop a plan by tangata turi for tangata turi.

Making links between government agencies and disabled people

We have worked and for and seen relationships between government and the disability community grow and strengthen with the voices of disabled people being embedded within how we do our work. Disabled people are no longer just consulted; they are integral to the success of many collective actions.

ODI works best when it works constructively and collaboratively with others. We could not have achieved all these things alone and have benefited from our time at MSD and the leadership and support MSD has provided on disability issues.

Importantly we acknowledge our disability community partners – the Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) Coalition, the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman, I.Lead youth, the family/whanau network and the many other less formal collaborations that have both challenged our thinking and progressed the rights and opportunities of disabled people. 

We celebrate progress and know we must do better

In August, we will be examined at the UN on our progressive realisation of the UNCRPD. We hope the significant progress achieved over the past few years will be acknowledged. We also know that quite rightly we will be challenged to do more. Our data tells us that, as does the voice of disabled people.

COVID-19 has presented its unique set of challenges for the disability community.  It has exposed systems’ weaknesses and at the same time evidenced strengths.

We become part of the change we have worked for

Move and change brings sadness and opportunity. We will remain connected to the great work of our MSD colleagues and colleagues in other government agencies. Their work is our work; our work is their work. The Accessibility legislation being developed by MSD policy has the potential to be a real game changer for disabled people and others with access needs.

We have become part of the change that we have advocated for – the opportunity to be part of the first Ministry of Disabled People (name to be confirmed) and further achieve progress to make Aotearoa a non-disabling society.

Nga mihi nui

As we move on, we would like to warmly thank everyone for their support over the years. In particular, we express our sincerest gratitude to the leadership and commitment of Ministers whom the Office has served, leaders and supporters within in MSD – Debbie Power, Simon MacPherson, Julia Bergman. We have benefited from their talent, dedication, guidance, trust, and friendship.  along with all the managers, leaders, colleagues, and former ODI members who helped make the Office what it is today.

Kia kaha – stay safe, stay connected.


ODI director Brian sits at his desk holding a moving box on his lap and smiles.

Image description: ODI director Brian Coffey sits at his messy desk smiling and holding a moving box on his lap. He needs to hurry up and finish packing his desk for the move.

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