Nicky Wagner

NEW ZEALAND Disabilities Minister Nicky Wagner is being compared to Britain’s Theresa May after tweeting that she’d rather be out sailing than in meetings about disabilities.

UK Prime Minister May’s apparent lack of empathy for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno this week has earned her strong criticism that she’s out of touch with the people.

And now New Zealand’s disabilities minister is being accused of a similar lack of empathy, after tweeting on Wednesday: “Busy with Disability meetings in Auckland- rather be out on the harbour!”


While Wagner’s faux-pas is not on the scale of May’s failure to meet with the survivors of the horrific fire, it does feed the growing perception of a political class so isolated from the everyday problems of many ordinary people that it thinks it’s okay to make comments like that.

The parallel between Wagner and May has not gone unnoticed:

wagner may

People who have seen Wagner’s tweet are shocked.

“I suggest you step down then,” tweeted @amykspeaks this morning. “Our communities deserve someone who wants to be there and make a difference.”

And @MariaSherwood said:Got a solution for your boredom with the disability portfolio, there’s an election in September, stand down, More time on water.”

Someone who knew a person at one of Wagner’s meetings that day was similarly horrified.

“How dare you be so flippant,” @nzrosie@nzrosie said. “I know one of those disabled people you were meeting with, and she had been looking forward to it four two weeks.”

While most people can understand the sentiment (we would all rather be out sailing on the harbour than at work), Wagner’s comment shows a huge disregard not only for her job as a minister of the Crown, but also for the nature of her portfolio.

Most people with disabilities have to deal every day with the fact that they can’t do the things they want to do. Not bunking off of work; to be able to go to work every day  – even to attend meetings when the harbour is sparkling outside the window – is a dream of many disabled people. With her comment, Wagner shows that she doesn’t fundamentally grasp the challenges facing the people she is mandated to help.

It’s a point not lost on @FionaMcKenzie9, who said: “I hear you – I hate it when our daughter’s disability gets in the way of our sailing. And biking. And overseas travel. Ugh.”


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