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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9531

Mr ZAPPIA (5:32 PM) —I too welcome the opportunity to speak on the report by the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs entitled Access all areas. It is a report on the draft Disability (Access to Premises—Buildings) Standards. I could not help reading the opening commentary in that report, which was a statement by Brian Howe MP made on 26 May 1992 in his second reading speech on the Disability Discrimination Bill. Having read that statement, I believe it sums up very eloquently what we as a society should be aspiring to when it comes to redressing and addressing the issues, difficulties and disadvantages being faced by people with a disability throughout our communities.

I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on this report because it enables me to touch on some of the matters that cause that disadvantage and create barriers to people with a disability not just in Australia but right around the world. I say from the outset that this is a matter that has been neglected and somewhat ignored for much too long. I certainly welcome the fact that in recent years this parliament has begun to address many of these issues. We nevertheless have a long, long way to go. I say that in the full knowledge that it is indeed a very complex matter that is effectively endless. You can start on this project, as I suspect the committee members did, and once you begin to make your inquiries and hear the stories you begin to delve into areas that you had not intended to from the outset but which are just as relevant to what you are trying to achieve as the final recommendations that you bring back to the parliament are.

Clearly, the committee had a focus on addressing the issues relating to buildings, and quite rightly so, because, without access into buildings, that level of disadvantage is just compounded so much more. Access denied into buildings is in fact one of the most serious kinds of barriers that we place in front of people with a disability. I say that in the full knowledge that there is such a wide range of disabilities and trying to address every aspect of improvement that is required for every kind of disability that is out there is indeed a mammoth task. For that reason I accept that we can address these issues by taking them one step at a time, and I believe that is exactly what the committee has endeavoured to do in this report by, in the first instance, addressing the building standards.

I congratulate the committee members on the effort they have put into this report. It is clear that they have put an incredible amount of work into listening to the representations that were made and then put some very considered thought into the recommendations that they brought back to the parliament. Just a moment ago I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services and I, too, will be waiting with interest for the government’s response to the report.

It is well known and, again, repeated in the report that one in five members of our society has some form of disability. As I said earlier on, that disability can take on a whole range of different forms. As a result of that, those people with a disability, whatever it might be, have to live with a level of hardship on a daily basis that, fortunately, most of us do not have to do. It is a hardship that is made worse because we as a society have, over the years, placed unnecessary barriers in front of people with disabilities. We have done so, I believe, not deliberately but unintentionally. We have done so because many of us within society, in our decision-making processes, simply do not have the understanding and the knowledge of what it might be like for a person with a disability to then have to, perhaps, be part of whatever it is we are making a decision on. I will come back to that a bit later on and talk about some of the things that can be done.

It seems to me that, quite often, many of the barriers that are there for people with disabilities could have been avoided, probably without any additional cost whatsoever to society, but rather with some foresight. I said earlier that this is a complex issue and indeed it is. It is a complex issue because of the multiple nature of barriers that are there and the multiple nature of disabilities that exist amongst the community. For that reason I expect that our response to all of these matters will certainly be a slow one. Extensive reform is possible without, I believe, doing much more than just changing the culture and the mindset of the decision makers, the designers and the people who make decisions within society generally. In saying that, I believe it is possible to do all those things without imposing an unreasonable obligation on the rest of society. I highlight the word ‘unreasonable’ in my remarks because there is a level at which you have to make a judgment about what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. It is all about: what is reasonable?

We live in a society where many of our laws, practices and principles we adhere to are built on a spirit of social justice or social equality. Yet, when it comes to disability issues, reform seems to have occurred at a much slower pace than it has in so many other areas. We can talk about inequality, whether it is to do with women’s issues or racial issues and so on, and we moved and acted on those many years ago, but it seems we have been pretty slow when it comes to the disability sector. Again, I welcome the fact that this parliament is now speaking about this issue and has brought back this report.

As I said, access to buildings is one of those primary areas that we need to overcome if we are going to begin on the road to breaking down the barriers for people with disabilities. Essentially, that comes about by society broadly having a much better understanding of what needs to be done, and you can only have that better understanding if you take the time out to listen to people with disabilities, to listen to their problems and to understand that, more often than not, what they are asking for is not at all unreasonable.

It comes about, for example, through changing the designs of many of the things we manufacture, including our homes. I heard the parliamentary secretary talking about that just a moment ago. A classic example of the way we design homes today is that had we designed them differently in years gone by, and if the standards for door making, or windows, or ramps or whatever had been done differently from the start, it would have made life so much easier for so many people, yet without adding any additional cost. All it meant was a different design, not a different cost structure. The cost occurs now because when you retrofit, what you are trying to do and what you need to do incur additional costs because they are not standard fittings anymore. Had they been standard in the first place, they would not have been an extra cost at all. I can think of many examples, whether they are to do with ramps, passageways or doorways, that could easily have been designed differently in years gone by. It now is the case that we have to retrofit in many examples, so bringing about some uniformity in the building standards and standards to address some of those problems will at least ensure that new buildings, or where new work is carried out, will comply with those standards. I believe that is a good thing and is something that is well overdue.

I will give another example of how, sometimes, it does not take a lot to do things differently but it can make a world of difference to people with disabilities. Years ago I was the mayor of the City of Salisbury. We adopted a program whereby we would see what we could do to overcome many of the barriers faced by people with disabilities. We set up an advisory committee made up predominantly of members of the community with a diverse range of disabilities, who gave us advice as to what should be done. One of the issues that was a constant problem to people with disabilities was accessing buses—getting on and off buses—because the bus stops were not properly designed and built to enable that to occur. Certainly, if you had a wheelchair, or one of those motorised gophers, it was almost impossible to get onto a bus at most bus stops. We went about redesigning and changing the bus stops throughout the city. Had that been done in the first instance, most of the problems—the redesign and rebuild work that took place—would never have been necessary, and it would not have cost much more to have done it right in the first place than it was to have done it the way that it was. It was simply through genuine ignorance that they were designed and built the way they were. Ultimately, to retrofit was going to cost our city close to $1 million. That is the kind of cost that could have been avoided.

Having said that, the work of the committee highlighted to me that people with a disability are not at all unreasonable; in fact, they are probably more understanding and more tolerant than most other people. It was because of that I came to respect the fact that what they asked for was never unreasonable, and if what seemed to be unreasonable was unreasonable, they would be the first to say, ‘We accept that this might create a barrier for us but it is unreasonable to ask the rest of the community to fix it up for us.’ They did not have unrealistic expectations. What we were able to do, as a group, was methodically to work through the areas of disadvantage that were being caused for people with disabilities throughout the city as a result of doing things unintentionally, which created those barriers.

This report has a number of recommendations in it, and I suspect they make a huge inroad towards breaking down those barriers. It is a report that, I believe, will lead to a lot more reports in years to come and a lot more areas being explored where the barriers for people with disabilities can and should be broken down, and I welcome that. A number of the recommendations talk about further work being done in different areas.

I conclude my remarks by saying that, having read parts of the report—and I cannot say that I have studied it all in detail—the important thing is that we need to ensure whatever standards are agreed to are then implemented throughout the community because it is pointless having a set of standards that overcome the barriers that I am referring to but are not in fact policed in any way, shape or form. That is one of the things that we need to ensure happens.

The other concern I have is that because of the cost of housing today and the small allotments that are being created, I am seeing smaller homes being built on tighter allotments with tighter spaces in every sense of the word. I believe that we may regret doing that because in years to come when older people remain in their own homes they will need some of the aids that the parliamentary secretary referred to earlier. The places that we are building now may not be designed to cater for them. Again, that is why I welcome the fact that, at least in future new buildings, or where new work is carried out, work ought to be carried out in a way that complies with these standards.

Once again, I congratulate all of the committee members for the work they have done. I look forward to the government response on this; but, more importantly, I look forward to the community’s response on this because this is a matter for which we all collectively have responsibility.

Debate (on motion by Mr Ripoll) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.46 pm to 6.40 pm