NT Disability Services Minister John Elferink Apologises after Pretending to Sign

Following the Northern Territory Disability Services Minister John Elferink’s unfortunate gaffe where he pretended to use sign language after learning his parliamentary colleague Gerry McCarthy has a hearing loss, Deaf Children Australia and DeafNT have offered to provide Deaf cultural awareness training and basic sign language instruction to the Minister and his staff. John Elferink has since made a public apology and expressed his regret about the incident to our staff.

ABC News Online reported on 25 March:

‘The Deputy Leader of the Northern Territory Opposition Gerry McCarthy has called on the Disability Services Minister John Elferink to apologise after appearing to mock his hearing disability by pretending to use sign language.

Mr McCarthy said Mr Elferink’s behaviour was “totally inappropriate” and called on him to apologise to all Territorians with a hearing impairment.

The incident happened during an antagonistic exchange when a special committee was debating changes to local government legislation.

Mr McCarthy asked Minister for Local Government Bess Price to repeat her answer to a question as he claimed to have not heard her.

“Minister, I’m sorry, if you could lean into the microphone that would help me,” he said.

“Are you seriously having trouble hearing?” said CLP backbencher, Matt Conlan, who was chairing the debate.

Labor MLA Natasha Fyles was heard telling Parliament: “He has hearing aids”.

“In that case, Minister, would you please speak up for the Member for Barkly,” Mr Conlan said.

In the footage of parliamentary proceedings, Mr Elferink was sitting behind Ms Price and can be seen leaning halfway out of the frame and appearing to use mock sign language as Ms Price repeated her answer.

Mr McCarthy said the Minister should apologise.

“It’s not about me. It’s about people with a hearing impairment who I share a disability with,” he said.

“We need support, we don’t need any mocking in the community.

“I think it’s worth challenging the Minister for Disabilities for an apology to all Territorians with a hearing impairment.”

Mr Elferink said he made some hand signals to Mr McCarthy in “a moment of silliness”.

“The moment I did it I regretted it, and of course, if anybody’s offended by my actions I unequivocally and wholesomely apologise,” he said.

“I was certainly unaware he (Mr McCarthy) had any form of hearing difficulties whatsoever, he’s never indicated that in the past.” ‘

Click to see the ABC News Online article and view footage of the incident.

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