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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5971

Mr DREYFUS (8:53 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I present the committee’s report entitled Access all areas: Report of the inquiry into Draft Disability (Access to Premise—Buildings) Standards, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr DREYFUS —It is my pleasure to present the report Access all areas: Report of the inquiry into Draft Disability (Access to Premise—Buildings) Standards, which is the third report of the committee for this parliament. There are approximately four million people with a disability in Australia, a number which is expected to increase as the population ages. Every day people with a disability face physical barriers in the community, from a doorway too narrow for a wheelchair, to not being able to visit their member of parliament because his or her office is located at the top of a flight of stairs. These physical barriers to the built environment have broader consequences for people with a disability, in restricting their access to the economic and social environment of our community.

The draft Premises Standards are designed to make buildings more accessible for people with mobility, vision and hearing impairments. If introduced, the Premises Standards will have a widespread impact, changing buildings regulations for new buildings and existing buildings undergoing significant upgrades.

As well as providing improved access, the Premises Standards would also provide certainty to building certifiers, developers and managers that they are complying with their obligations under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act. In conducting the inquiry, the committee received evidence from disability advocacy groups, the property and building sectors and many concerned individuals. The level of interest in the inquiry clearly demonstrates how important these issues are to people with a disability.

The report reflects the unanimous view of the committee that the Premises Standards should be finalised and introduced without delay. However, there are a number of areas of the Premises Standards which should be amended prior to their introduction. The committee has recommended that access be provided to the common areas of class 2 buildings, such as residential apartment buildings. It is clear that the market has not responded to the needs of people with a disability or to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, even where class 2 buildings are primarily used for short-term accommodation. As a result, people with a disability are excluded from an affordable accommodation option in serviced apartments which might otherwise be well suited for their needs. The committee’s recommendation to include class 2 buildings within the scope of the Premises Standards reflects the overwhelming majority of evidence received.

The committee also recommended that the Premises Standards distinguish between new and existing class 1b buildings. These are bed and breakfast, eco-lodges and similar accommodation. The committee found that the proportional cost increases imposed by the Premises Standards are substantial in existing class 1b buildings. The committee therefore considers that the current threshold of four bedrooms or dwellings for accessibility in existing buildings is appropriate. However, the increases in costs flowing from accessibility requirements in new class 1b buildings are much more modest. The committee has therefore recommended that accessibility requirements should be imposed on all new and purpose-built class 1b buildings, regardless of the number of rooms or dwellings they provide.

Given the long and protracted history of the development of the Premises Standards, the committee has recommended that they be finalised and introduced without delay. However, there are a number of areas where more research is required and other areas which are the result of previous negotiation and compromise. It is important to assess whether the standards, and certain provisions in the standards, are working to achieve their object and purpose. As a result, the committee has made a detailed recommendation relating to the review of the Premises Standards after some years of operation.

I would like to thank the other members of the committee and the skilled and dedicated staff of the secretariat who worked on this important inquiry: Anna Dacre, Serica Mackay, Stephen Still and Sharon Bryant, some of whom are with us in the advisers box. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of all those who shared their time, expertise and experience with the committee during this inquiry. I have spoken of the committee’s key recommendations for the draft Premises Standards. There are other relatively minor changes discussed in the committee’s report.