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Disability (Access to Premises - Buildings) Standards [draft]

CHAIR —Welcome. Do you have any comment to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Hall —I am the policy director for tourism at the Tourism and Transport Forum.

CHAIR —Thank you. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these proceedings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you want to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to questions?

Mr Hall —Yes, thank you, Chair. I would like to make a few quick opening comments and then, if I may, I will take you through a bit of a case study that might throw some illumination on some of these issues. I will start off by making some comments about the Building Code of Australia. It is a very powerful and precise policy tool. It goes to the heart of what will and will not be built in this country. Anything that is built is very hard to deal with after the event so, if you actually want to do something about disabled access in this country, the Building Code is without a doubt the place to start. But because it is such a precise code, it is a very difficult policy tool to use to head things in the general direction. Because it is so precise, those things need to be not only well intentioned but very well contemplated and considered policy measures. On the whole, the tourism industry is broadly supportive of the code, and the use of the code through the proposed standards, not least because it gives some certainty about compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. Generally, the tourism industry exists to make destinations accessible to people from a diverse range of backgrounds, cultures and languages. We are quite proud of our tradition of doing so. While there are quite a few measures, regarding swimming pools, the number of entrances and so on and so forth, which are extremely expensive for the industry—and I hope that is appreciated—in the code, we accept them as part of the ongoing social policy and reform that any country goes through and which, in 10 years time, we will all accept as a matter of course.

There are two clear issues for us as to the proposed standards which I would like to explain in some detail. The first is the decision to exempt class 2 buildings. I can make some guesses as to why this was done. But I would have to say that, from the position of disabled access, there is no difference in the needs between a class 2 building and a class 3 building. Class 3 buildings are, fundamentally, hotels. A class 2 building is an apartment tower. The primary difference in usage between the two is generally considered to be whether or not it is a short stay of around six weeks. It does change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Sometimes it is up to three months. Typically, the definition of a short stay is six weeks. I have to say that no-one becomes suddenly able bodied after six weeks and able to use a class 2 building when they would not have been able to use it for short-stay accommodation of less than six weeks. So we find the logic of including one but not the other extremely dubious in terms of what the standards are trying to do. We are far more concerned about the impact of having made the exemption. It is going to massively distort the market of investment between whether you are going to build a class 3 building or whether you are going to build a class 2 building. I am happy to go into some detail on that and perhaps that would be best through questions.

In truth, tourism primarily competes with residential for use of available land and really does so successfully. This is primarily due to a range of government distortions, some of which are quite well intended and do have the impact of making residential investment more affordable. That is the purpose of anything ranging from the first home owner grants scheme to exemptions from land tax and so on and so forth. But it does impact on us insofar as anywhere that people want to live—be it a place with a view and with access to community services—is generally where people want to visit as well and ours is one of the few land uses that are direct competitors for residential. By exempting class 2 while applying the standard to class 3, you put a massive cost distortion in there between doing class 2 or class 3, and the end result will be you that you will build more class 2, with lower standards as to the disabled, than what you would build otherwise if you had not included the standard or if you had not exempted class 2 buildings. So this is going to shift investment away from tourist accommodation, which is a massive problem for the industry at the moment. We have in most capital cities record occupancy rates. Even now, in the midst of the recession that dare not speak its name, we have seen some fall in demand. We are still seeing record occupancy levels in a lot of destinations, largely because we have had no investment in new tourist accommodation, particularly hotel accommodation, since around 2000. We have reached capacity constraints. This is a serious inhibitor of future growth.

The second issue I would like to go into is room ratios. Turning to all of the other standards that are in there, we have had some comment from the industry on them. Generally, while they are all very expensive, they share the merit of actually being needed by disabled people, so they serve a purpose. The same cannot be said of the proposed increase in the room ratio or in fact the current room ratio that is in the Building Code. It so far exceeds the demand for disabled access rooms as to be absolutely ludicrous in terms of the numbers involved. It is very hard to get some data on this. We did ask Attorney-General’s to provide some information about how the ratio was arrived at, seeing if there were something that the hotels industry, who are of course experts in providing accommodation, were missing or were failing to see that could possibly justify the ratio. We have been given no information, and we have made repeated requests. There do not seem to be any studies or any evidence that has been put together to analyse this case. It is of course hard for us to analyse it because we, as the industry, do not keep details on whether or not a particular patron was disabled. But we did try to have a look at a case study which I have got for you. It is now being handed out to you. It might illuminate the question.

We had a look at a particular hotel. It is a real hotel, by the way, but I dare not speak its name although I am happy to advise you in confidence if that is considered necessary. This is a five-star hotel in Sydney. It has got 550 rooms built in the 1980s and employs 263 full-time-equivalent staff. It was built in accordance with the requirements of the time. Of those 550 rooms, five, or slightly less than one per cent, are built for disabled access. Last calendar year this hotel had its highest occupancy ever. During that period there were 156,585 room-nights of which only 342 could be attributed to demand for those disabled access rooms. These rooms are let on what is known as a last-let basis, and I am sure you have received some evidence on this to date. Generally speaking, they are held in reserve to be there for disabled people and because, frankly, they are not desired by most hotel patrons. I can go into some explanation of this. I have been hearing around the traps a bit of moralising about this. The truth is people just do not want them. They feel uncomfortable going to the toilet in rooms that far exceed their sense of personal space and isolation. Generally speaking, they turn a five-star or a four-star room into a three-star room and that takes into account that there is none of the ascetic appeal that people are paying for once you get past a three-star level. The short and the tall of it is that they are not let unless the hotel is 100 per cent full or unless there is a specific request presumably—although we do not keep data on it—by a disabled person. So for those rooms there were only 342 room-nights booked in that period. That represents 0.2 per cent of the overall demand. What this essentially equates to is that, of the five hotel rooms that are disabled access, four are unused for that purpose at that point in time. Of course these were five rooms dedicated to that in the 1980s when the hotel was first built. If you were to build this hotel today, there would be 20 rooms required under the proposed standard that you are looking at. So there would be 19 rooms vacant and the impact of those 19 rooms is basically a loss of 3.5 per cent on hotel investment. This is more than enough at the margin to make a difference as to whether or not a hotel will be built. What we consider very seriously is that either of these two measures—but particularly in combination—of only applying a standard to a class 3 building, which is only like be a hotel, and putting in a room ratio that far exceeds what is necessary while leaving about three or four per cent of the hotel permanently vacant is more than enough to kill off hotel development. That means you are going to have fewer hotels built with the other necessary disabled access standards and with new disabled access rooms in the place where the market is going, where the demand exists for new accommodation. You are going to have fewer disabled accessible premises than what you would have if you had not imposed the standard in the first place. It is one of these perverse consequences that you get when you use very bluntly a tool as precise as the Building Code.

I do want to say that generally we are very accepting of those measures which have some merit. Whatever the cost-benefit analysis might be, they have some merit in terms of being actually demanded by or used by the disabled patrons of hotels. But I am sure that you would agree that if there is no demand for these extra rooms there is no justification for putting the cost on to hotel development. Certainly that is a good reason not to, insofar as you are probably going to end up with less disabled accessible tourist accommodation. That concludes my opening remarks.

CHAIR —Thanks very much, Mr Hall. I might go straight to the class 2 point. I do not know whether you have had a chance to look at other submissions that have been made to the inquiry—

Mr Hall —I had a brief look at the Australian Hotels Association submission.

CHAIR —You would have seen that quite a deal of the evidence to the inquiry and quite a deal of submissions have been devoted to this question of whether or not class 2 should be included. When you talk about class 2, are you talking about the whole of class 2 or simply the service departments insofar as it might be possible to define those?

Mr Hall —I am talking about the whole of class 2. I have to say that this distinction that somehow a service department is different is one of the failures that you get into, particularly when you try to use the Building Code of Australia—not to determine what is and is not built but to try to regulate use after the event, after being built. The problem exists for the industry whether it is residential or short-stay letting in a class 2 building. Either way, you are distorting investment away from hotels by having one option that is exempt and working under a much lower cost basis.

I would come back to the fact that you are not suddenly able-bodied because you are staying somewhere for longer than six weeks. Your need to enter a building or to have a room where you can put the wheelchair in and go to the bathroom and so forth does not change depending on the length of stay. It is a very arbitrary line that was drawn for regulatory purposes—which in actual fact does not bear out all that well in usage, which is why we have seen the rise of serviced apartments in this country. It really is not common sense. Let’s not muck around: the reason that residential is exempted is that no-one is prepared to put up the cost of housing affordability, either from the industry side or, for that matter, from the government side. I have no doubt that class 2 will be exempt with the final standards come out, because of the huge cost that it would have, but we find it somewhat unappealing.

All the arguments for or against disabled access are equally valid whether you are talking about somewhere you are staying for more or less than six weeks and yet the standards are only going to be applied to one part of the industry—and, within that, probably only applied to hotels, because the only accommodation development that has been going on since about 1998-99 has been in serviced apartments, largely because they are built for residential purposes. You can sell them off one by one to spread the risk under strata titling and they can tap into the residential markets. Therefore all the advantages that governments specifically give to residential development make that building affordable in the first place and then afterwards, over time, if mum and dad let out their room for six weeks while they live on the Gold Coast or head down to Melbourne for six weeks over summer, is the whole building suddenly a hotel? This is where you start to get into the difficulties regarding the usage of the hotel. We would argue that trying to draw a line within or between any usage is illogical in terms of what you are trying to achieve for disabled plus has the massive disadvantage of distorting investment.

CHAIR —Just to clarify the position that the Tourism and Transport Forum adopts: first of all, you would prefer it if all class 2 buildings were not exempt—

Mr Hall —That is correct.

CHAIR —with no distinction to be drawn between serviced apartments and residential use? I am trying to recognise the difficulties of definition here, but you say, ‘Get over the difficulty in definition by ignoring it.’

Mr Hall —I think there is a fair argument between class 1A, which is going to be for long periods of time owner-occupied, and class 2. At the end of the day, class 2 is what it is: it is an apartment tower. It is largely going to be for people who are not owner-occupiers, who are either renting for periods of longer than six weeks or letting under short stay for periods of less than six weeks. Sometimes that definition is three months or whatever, but it is an arbitrary line in the sand. It is a public use building.

CHAIR —So that is position No. 1. If that is not possible, you put forward the proposition that, because of the distortion to the market that you believe that this will cause, there ought to be some correction of that using the taxation system.

Mr Hall —Yes.

CHAIR —And as a third alternative, you have asked that, if the standards are not to be applied to class 2, some certainty be given to developers of class 2 buildings as to what they need to do to comply with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Mr Hall —They are not mutually exclusive. In terms of the impact on investment and market distortion, our first position would be to treat all property classes equally. If they are publicly used buildings then the standards should apply. If you are not going to do that—for whatever reason—then recognise that you are putting a massive distorting into the market. This hotel that we have used in the case study would not be built in Sydney, despite the fact that we desperately need it. That is 260 jobs gone because we put in this decision to impact on where that investment allocation goes. So, if you are going to put this impost on industry, mitigate it in some way for the unintended consequence of fewer hotel developments. Our suggestion would be through the tax system, through faster depreciation of tourism property.

The second issue comes back to the heart of the class 2/class 3. If standards are needed to give certainty about whether or not you are complying with the Disability Discrimination Act, certainty is still required whether or not you are in a class 2 or a class 3 building. If effectively you are saying, ‘We’re not prepared to do a standard for class 2,’ at least have the courage to say, ‘Therefore, if you are building to the Building Code, you are in compliance with the requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act.’

CHAIR —Can I interrupt you, Mr Hall, to say that that is the point of the disability standard is to provide certainty so that people do not have to deal with the possibility of a complaint being made under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Mr Hall —So what certainty does the exemption provide? Well, nothing. Does that mean you are also saying that you do not have to build to the standards, for example, that you put in class 3 to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act? Are you suggesting that you do not have to build to that standard but not providing any certainty that that is in fact the case? That is the impact of exemption one property class over another. The third issue, obviously, is the room ratios, and this is irrespective of which property class you apply it to. I have to say that they are just ridiculous.

CHAIR —We will go to the room ratios. I have one question about this. Your written submission was, I might say, very helpful. In particular, the general support of your organisation for the introduction of the standards is noted. You said that you sought from the Attorney-General’s Department to learn whether or not there was some statistical rationale or data that they had available that supported—

Mr Hall —Or any rationale!

CHAIR —the adoption of the ratio that is being adopted. Is it your understanding that, to date, nothing has been provided?

Mr Hall —We have asked them verbally in a telephone hook-up to try to understand what was going on. They did not know. They simply said that it was assumed to be meaningful. I get the impression that this is the outcome of negotiations that led to these standards—at which the tourism industry was not represented and would have made comments about how meaningful that was. We then asked in writing, and we have had some email exchanges. They said they did not know and we then went to the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. The only answer I seemed to get back was that it was not actually part of the discussions this time round; it was part of the discussions in 2004 and even then it was from the discussions in 2002 and no-one seemed to complain about that at the time.

That is as far as I have been able to going to in terms of how anyone at any stage arrived at this particular ratio. If someone has another explanation we would certainly love to hear it and then love to get into the nitty-gritty of where it came from. It may well be that there is a need for higher room ratios at the low end—at least higher than, say, one per cent. We do not have great data, but from the hotel GMs, we think it is a maximum of one per cent of rooms in hotels. There might be a higher need, perhaps around two per cent, at the lower end—be it a serviced apartment or three-star hotel rooms. That is the sort of information that we need to get into. If you are going to use a tool as precise as the Building Code, to say what should and should not be built, you really need that sort of data.

If this is imposed, it is really only going to be four- or five-star hotels that are going to be built under class 3, if they are built at all. I have to say that they are the ones who are really not going to need five per cent of the rooms to be dedicated as disabled access rooms. There is a far greater requirement, for a start, to say where those rooms are in the hotel, to ensure that they are not all sitting in the basement and so on, which is a fair enough consideration. But the reason that they are put in the basement is that they are vacant at this point in time. If you actually got the ratio right and there was a demand something equivalent to the demand for the other rooms in the hotel, people would be far more prepared to put them in appropriate places and deal with them properly.

So we want some information and we want this dealt within on a very practical and measured basis, just as the Building Code is a very practical and measured tool. We find the five per cent ratio for any tourism class building completely ludicrous. Operators of any apartments—and both serviced apartments and hotels are all within our membership—are all befuddled by how anyone could view this as an appropriate ratio. It just so far exceeds demand as to be ridiculous.

Mr PERRETT —If I want to access one of those rooms that is wheelchair friendly, what do I call the room? If I rock up to the counter, standing or in a wheelchair, what do I say or what does the clerk offer?

Mr Hall —I do not know the answer to the question. I have discussed this with the CEOs of the operational change who are also, I have to say, a little bit removed from day-to-day hotel operations, but we did speak to some of the general managers. I do not know how they refer to the rooms. I can give you the feedback that generally when the rooms are used, or presumably used, by disabled people they are forward bookings, when someone has specifically booked a room in advance. What they ring up and ask for or what expression is used on the internet, I do not know.

CHAIR —Would it be possible for you to seek some advice from your members and come back to us in writing about that? We appreciate that the answer to the question will, to an extent, be anecdotal and not systemic, but if you could let us know, just by asking around among your members, both how they refer to these rooms and how people refer to them when they ring up.

Mr Hall —I am happy to do that.

Mr PERRETT —And also how it is done on the net.

Mr Hall —I can add to my earlier answer. Some of the feedback I did get is that they do have an operational problem with the rooms insofar as they have learnt not to offer them when someone in a wheelchair comes to the front counter seeking a room, because they often get comments that it is patronising to offer the room. So the staff are generally reluctant to point out that there is a room and, because a lot of the staff are casual and the rooms are so rarely used, they might not in fact be aware that the room is there. That is some of the feedback we are getting. You cannot assume that because someone is disabled they necessarily want that room. So, generally, the rooms are used when someone has specifically booked and asked for one. I will get some details about how that is advertised or what words people use.

Mr PERRETT —In relation to advertising, I know people advertise some hotels as being family friendly and there is even a pink dollar targeting campaign. Is there a campaign in relation to people with disabilities?

Mr Hall —It is interesting that we had a discussion about whether or not, if no-one had interfered in the market by way of standards, the market would have moved to providing disabled access rooms. There was some sense that probably—

Mr PERRETT —0.2 per cent, which I find incredible.

Mr Hall —0.2 per cent usage?

Mr PERRETT —On your data.

Mr Hall —For that case study, yes.

Mr PERRETT —It would not be 0.2 per cent of the Australian public who would have some access issues, surely. Isn’t that what your data shows, that 0.2 per cent of the hotel-using population would have access issues?

Mr Hall —That is what the data shows. What are you saying about that?

Mr PERRETT —It just seems quite strange compared to all the other data that we have.

Mr Hall —That it is higher than that?

Mr PERRETT —No, that it is less, that it is so much smaller than what it would be in the rest of the community, as I understand it.

Mr Hall —Less than the 0.2 per cent would be the disabled community?

Mr PERRETT —No, the complete opposite of that. If you walk down Swanston Street you will see that significantly more than 0.2 per cent of the population have some access issues, I would suggest.

Mr Hall —There are a couple of issues behind that. Generally when we are talking about disabled access rooms we are talking about ones that are wheelchair friendly, which obviously is not required by all disabled people. A lot of disabled people do not want those rooms, particularly the elderly, because the walls are much further away from the toilet and it is hard to get to. Also, even if the rooms are suitable for them that does not mean that they want them, so it is a huge assumption that that is what they are asking for. But walking down the street is no measure of the patronage for a five-star hotel in Sydney, as this particular case study shows. This goes to the heart of the issue. If it is more than 0.2 per cent, then so be it and let us build the standard to it, but let us actually have a look at where that demand is and make some value assessments.

Mr PERRETT —I would suggest, Mr Hall, that the logic is flawed. If you give out all the biscuits to everyone and Mr Andrews only has the Scotch Fingers, and you say, ‘He keeps choosing the Scotch Fingers,’ because they are the last ones available all the time, then you have a flawed accounting process here. You will not give anyone the disabled room or the universal access room. It seems to have a tag on it, I would suggest. I am not even sure what the room looks like.

Mr Hall —Are you saying the problem is that the hotels will not give one of these rooms to patrons because they do not want to use it unless they specifically ask for it because they are disabled?

Mr PERRETT —I will reserve my judgement in terms of whether or not it would be a good room for an elderly person. I had not heard of that. I am not sure what the rooms look like obviously because they have not been offered to me when I am checking in, unless it is grand final night or something like that. So I would be interested to see what the rooms look like and what the rooms are called. Do they look particularly different? From what I have heard in some of the other presentations we have had—I think it was from your members, or was it the Property Council?—there are some universal access design features that would flow seamlessly for people and they would not even know particularly that they were in a room that had universal access considerations.

CHAIR —I think that was from the Australian Hotels Association.

Mr PERRETT —Sorry, yes.

Mr Hall —I can only answer it in this way—

CHAIR —That was about 17 questions, Mr Hall, so you are forgiven.

Mr Hall —I think I have got to the nub of it—you were saying that the problem is that the hotels are not giving them out to people and therefore it is assumed to be a problem.

Mr PERRETT —I assume the clerk has a list of rooms to go through and gets to the last one on the list, which I assume is held for good reasons—as in should someone come in who has access problems then you have a room available for them when there is no point giving them a room that they cannot access.

Mr Hall —First of all, that is absolutely right. They are held in reserve for those who need them. Secondly, let us put a little bit of faith in the people who run hotels and serviced apartments for a living. They know what they are doing. We are not making this up. These rooms are unpopular. People ask for discounts. They are the last to let for a reason—no matter if you and I sit around and moralise and say, ‘Well, they really should love the room like they love every other room.’ By the time you get past a three-star room you are getting past, ‘What have I hired for the night: a bed, a shower and so on and so forth.’ By the time you get to four or five star what you are buying is aesthetic appeal, service, design and luxury. Then you say, ‘Here it is but you just have to live with the fact that the room is less appealing and we are still charging five-star rates.’

Well, hotels do not get away with charging five-star rates for those rooms. So the only time they are used, because of the customer backlash, is when the hotel says, ‘I’m sorry, Sir or Madam, but 99 per cent of the hotel is booked and we only have these rooms left.’ Typically people ask for a discount because they are dissatisfied with the room. That is the nature of the operation. We can sit down and moralise about this but that is what it is and that is the real cost. Are they constantly trying to improve the design? Yes. I am hearing anecdotes about people putting in handrails and then removing them as soon as they are certified because there in fact is no demand for it, and then keeping them in the basement on the off chance that there is demand for it and installing the handrails then—anything to get away from the problem that these rooms fundamentally become unprofitable.

The point I want to make is not that these rooms are unprofitable—it is a cost that the industry is sort of prepared to bear; we all have a cost for a well-running society—but there is no point asking them to bear the cost if there is no demand for the room from disabled patrons. That is the real issue here. We will live with whatever ratio reflects the demand. Is that ratio going to be consistent for all classes of buildings? I doubt it. Is it going to be consistent for all star ratings of buildings? I doubt it once again. So we have to do some research on this. But to just come up with a figure of five per cent and to literally as a result have no hotels built—because you are saying 19 rooms out of 550 are going to be unviable, which is more than enough to determine whether a hotel is going to be built, simply because we think that people should love them anyway—is frankly really poor policy. And there is going to be a terrible outcome for it because no-one has actually gone to the effort of measuring what the demand is for these rooms. We will live with a ratio that reflects the demand is I guess what I am saying.

CHAIR —Other than the single hotel case study that you have provided us with here, has your organisation done any statistical work or done any survey across the membership of your organisation that might provide a better picture of what is happening in the industry?

Mr Hall —We did try to get some data together. It does prove very difficult because it is not as if everyone records whether or not a particular patron is disabled. I do not think they would be allowed to. So it depends on the quality of the information that the hotel has about how many nights that individual room was booked for. The only rationale we can come up with is that if you take away the nights when the rest of the hotel was 99 per cent, or completely, full and was therefore used on a ‘last let’ basis, presumably they are being let to able-bodied patrons. So you would look at the nights where usage was less than, say, 99 per cent and presumably it is disabled patrons that have booked the hotel. There might be some slippage either way but generally that is the best measure that we can come up with. We can try to do some more and I think it would be rather telling to try to do it for serviced apartments, hotels—and at different star ratings—to try to get a real sense. And we should look at some capital cities and some different destinations. The Gold Coast, for example, is a destination entirely built on serviced apartments, most of which are class 2, which will not be impacted by these standards, yet I am sure there are a lot of disabled people who would like to go to the Gold Coast. Yet we might have a glut in capital cities that is completely unused. This goes to a very precise tool being used extremely bluntly. Let’s get some data to make sure that the precise tool is used precisely.

Mr ANDREWS —On that, have you any knowledge of any international comparisons. If you take roughly similar cities around the world—you would know better than I as to which ones, but I am thinking of London, Toronto, New York or Auckland or similar sorts of cities around the world—do you know how these standards apply to the hotels and serviced apartments in these cities and are there differentials in the application of them in other places?

Mr Hall —Do you mean the room ratios or the class 2/class 3 distinction?


Mr Hall —I am not aware for the class 2/class 3 distinction. The rise of serviced apartments in Australia has been far more pronounced than in other countries. This is the general feedback I get from the hotel and apartment operators, who are generally international operators. Once again it is hard to get precise data on this. We think it is largely led by government regulation rather than consumer demand. The tax and other incentives for residential development in Australia are generally a lot higher than what we see in other countries. I put this down to the great Australian dream of home ownership and your desire to facilitate that. What is often forgotten is that although there is a bit of distortion between business investment and residential investment, and that is part of the price of what you pay, we are about the only business that is actually directly competing for the same land use, and this where the impact has come up.

The real reason for the rise of serviced apartments, particularly on the Gold Coast and other examples—I have to say, about one-third of all Queensland accommodation as far as we can tell—is not from consumer demand; it is from the fact that you can sell off half of the apartment tower under strata title more or less as an investment methodology and spread the risk in doing so. You get some immediate return on the investment and therefore rent out the rest of the apartments. It becomes a very fine line as to whether something could actually be described as a hotel. Mums and dads own it and rent it out for a short period—it may be over six weeks or under six weeks. You may not be complying with the Building Code but it is a pretty blunt tool for usage after the event and no-one but no-one takes enforcement measures against mum and dad investors. So you have got all of these buildings operating and maybe 50 per cent or less are rented by the local real estate agent and put on Wotif or and out the door they go. We have got conflicting advice as to whether or not it is illegal but it is beside the point because no-one enforces it. A third of the accommodation of Queensland is built on this basis and no part of your disability standards is going to apply to Australia’s main hotel destinations—

CHAIR —I will stop you there. It is far more likely that the halving of the capital gains tax rate under the former government has had the effect you are pointing to with an explosion of serviced apartments than anything to do with disability standards.

Mr Hall —No, I would say that it is the combination of the capital gains tax, the negative gearing, the land tax exemptions, the planning monopolies for residential, whereas tourism goes for mixed use. It is the combination in a hundred and one areas from disabled access to state and federal taxation and other measures such as the first home owners grants.

I am not being party political on this: there is a general tendency by government to incentivise residential development, probably for very good reasons. All I am saying is that there is one particular property class that suffers as a result of that, and that is tourism development. When you go and use the Building Code for disability standards, the problem is not that you are using the Building Code but that you are using it imprecisely and exempting half the property classes. If you were to use it consistently with well-designed measures, it would not have a distorting effect on investment and we would not have the same concerns that we have today. What I am getting to is that it is not consumer demand.

Mr ANDREWS —The second part was: are you aware of any international comparisons on the ratios?

Mr Hall —I heard some very general comments about this in the US. The standards are not much there. In Europe, the standards are high. That is besides the point anyway, I would suggest, insofar as it is not really about standards internationally but about what the demand is for this particular short stay accommodation in this particular market and whether you need one per cent, five per cent or 0.2 per cent of your rooms to be available for disabled access.

Mr ANDREWS —But surely, Mr Hall, there is some guidance there. The Hilton chain and the Intercontinental chain have hundreds of hotels around the world. Surely there is some guidance to be gained there. An appropriate weighting still has to be given to it, but surely some guidance can be gained from the fact that the ratio in London is X or in New York is Y or in Chicago is Z compared to Australia. I agree that we still have to weight that as a measure, but from my perspective it would be useful if your members, who are parts of these major chains, were able to give us some advice as to what the ratios are internationally.

Mr Hall —I am certainly happy to ask them and come back to you. All I am suggesting is that the answer would reflect the regulatory conditions in each of those countries rather than the consumer demand for disabled room access.

Mr ANDREWS —I understand that point. As I said, we still have to weigh that, but it is a piece of information that I would be interested in.

Mr PERRETT —It depends on where your members are. But are there hotels that have universal access above one per cent or above five per cent? I am thinking of places besides the Twin Towns Bowls Club or—

Mr Hall —Where they are trying to lead the way?

Mr PERRETT —Yes—where maybe their clientele are more likely to need universal access.

Mr Hall —I could have a look. But it goes back to an earlier comment. This is what I was trying to get to before. I asked them whether, if there was not standard, the market have provided rooms for disabled patrons. The answer would be that in capital cities you would be able to form a niche and do it, but you would not get a very good regional spread. On that level, you would have to accept that there is a need on social policy grounds for a room ratio to provide accessibility in a range of destinations, not just where the market is big enough for one person to specialise. What you are doing without is the ability to cope with a conventional conference hall or meeting. One hotel dedicated to providing for disabled patrons would be able to do that. That is a choice that they would make. But if you are looking at access by regional spread, a room ratio is appropriate policy. We just ask that it has some bearing on the demand that exists. We can try and get some more information. All I can say on that is that it is very time consuming. But we will try and go through that process.

But what we much prefer, as per our recommendation, is rather than us coming up with figures—which I am sure might be assumed to be biased from the industry’s perspective—we would much rather have an independent study that everyone had some faith in. That would allow us to go to an analysis that was independent of us and of government that looked at the demand and could usefully inform people what the ratio ought to be, rather than us saying that we do not need it or whatever. I would hate for us to go through that work and do those figures only to have them not supported or recognised. As our recommendation calls for, we think that an independent assessment would be an appropriate tool.

CHAIR —We have to wrap up this session, but I have one final thing to ask you about. The Human Rights Commission, in its submission, stated very directly that in their view these premises standards merely codify existing obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. Does the Tourism and Transport Forum accept that that is the case?

Mr Hall —I would have to say no. The argument that has been put is that really this is no greater impost or burden than what exists legally at the moment. If that were true then no-one would be trying to implement standards. I think it is fair to say that the Disability Discrimination Act is not proving to be as useful a tool in providing access as people want it to be. I think the cause of this problem is that once you have built the building, it is really hard to change it. If you want to do something about disabled access—and you have to do this at the start of the matter when things are first being built—this is what we would accept: that the Building Code be a far more practical, realistic and valuable measure to provide disabled access than an aspirational stand in legislation which may or may not be useful—and something that people treat as a risk measure: ‘What are my chances of being done by doing this? What is the chance of a complaint getting through? How well is that going to be enforced?’ Let us face it, no-one is going to enforce it with mum and dad occupiers; it is more likely to fall on a brand or a major operator. For that purpose, we would like to see a standard, but it has to be rational and it has to be universally applied. That is the core answer to your question. If that is the standard then there is value in codifying it in terms of the Disability Discrimination Act and therefore giving the advantage of certainty. However, it still leaves a great, big, gaping hole with regard to the standard for class 2. Does merely codifying it mean the same standard for class 2 and that you are not prepared to write it into the standards? There is a mystery as to what will happen with class 2. The DDA is impractical in providing the sort of access that I think we would all like to see.

CHAIR —Thanks, Mr Hall. We have to end the session. I want to thank you for the written submission from the Tourism and Transport Forum and for attending the hearing today. The secretary will send you a copy of the transcript to enable you to make any corrections that need to be made and I would be grateful if you could liaise with the secretariat about the additional matters that you have undertaken to provide for our assistance.

Mr Hall —Can I get a sense of timing? Some of the information you have asked for could take some time, particularly if we were to go beyond one case study to get more data. Is there a time frame by which you would want that information?

CHAIR —As soon as possible because, as has been commented on by a lot of submitters to this inquiry, this process has now been underway for about a decade. We are keen to report and, indeed, plan to report to the parliament in early June. We will be writing the report effectively from mid April onwards, so the sooner the better is my advice.

Mr Hall —All right, I will see what I can do.

[10.18 am]