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STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
30/03/2009
Disability (Access to Premises - Buildings) Standards [draft]

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

Mr Fox —I am an architect and an access consultant.

CHAIR —Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these proceedings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament and giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you want to make a short introductory statement before we proceed to some questions? And I thank you for the written submission you have provided us with which was very helpful.

Mr Fox —Yes, I would like to make a number of comments—six brief comments, specifically. Firstly, I want to thank the government for bringing this matter forward. There has been a lot of anticipation about the premises standard Australia wide and I appreciate the government’s action in adopting the UN convention, and now taking action on both the UN convention protocol and this access to premises standard. As you see from the submission, I have been actively involved in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for about the last five years. So I have some interest in that.

The second point I wanted to make is actually not in my submission, but perhaps it is implied. I was the chair of the AS 1428 committee from 1974 to 1984 and I have been involved in access for about 30 years. Throughout all that time, to me the biggest single problem in this whole area has been the lack of research. In 1975, when I was chair of the 1428 committee, we managed to get some federal government research, and that was in fact the foundation of 1428. Further research was done in South Australia in 1988, and the ABCB initiated a research program a couple of years ago but, as of now, that has not been publicly released. I am fundamentally concerned from the point of view of the cost of this lack of research. A good example of that is doors. The original research was for a 760 door. The current standard is an 800 door. The new standard is an 850 door. The cost of that on the building industry nationally is huge. We have things like that—and I have been involved in many of the access committee meetings—and a lot of the dimensions in the standard are really dimensions by consensus not by hard research. It bothers me fundamentally that, in all the effort that we are going to on this premises standard, on the UN convention, we do not really have a solid research base. That does concern me.

The third point I wanted to make briefly is that it is important that whatever we legislate for is reasonable. In all my work in access, providing reasonable requirements is so important to ensure that we get public awareness, acceptance and effective implementation.

Fourthly is the issue of terminology. I heard it again this morning, in the earlier presentation. I think it is important that the hearing and the panel and the documentation clearly state the correct terminology. The UN convention article 9 is simply called ‘Accessibility’. We would always use terms like ‘equitable access’ or ‘accessible environments’ and we would typically not use the term ‘disabled access’. We talk about an ‘accessible parking space’ rather than a ‘disabled parking space’. I think it is very important that, as an organisation, we make a clear statement about appropriate terminology.

Point No. 5 has been covered this morning. It is about class 2 buildings. I appreciate the debate about public and private spaces, but, as the previous speaker mentioned—paraphrasing that—class 2 is broadly speaking about transient accommodation. Its purpose globally is ageing in place. We talk about international models. To me, the best model I am aware of is the UK part M legislation, which now requires all housing—class 1, class 2, any type of housing—to be adaptable unless there are unreasonable topographical issues or unreasonable cost issues. That, I think, is benchmark legislation, and it is really changing the public perception of a thing called housing.

I will make a comment about the previous discussion. I am an architect and we design lots of hotels and things. The issue really is about the design. If you can design a pleasant two-, three-, four- or five-star hotel—and I have been to many around the world and I have been involved in many in Australia—you can design a terrific hotel room which also happens to be accessible. It is no big deal. I think it is an awareness-raising thing. I think by putting class 2 back into this document we will be part of that awareness-raising program. I think we have a situation where housing has been marginalised for the last 20 years or so. We have emphasised, naturally, the public domain, which is what the BCA is all about. If we could put class 2 into the public domain consideration, I think we would naturally get better-designed buildings, we would get more awareness by architects, by builders, by developers and by local authorities. So I would certainly advocate that class 2 becomes part of this agenda.

Finally I just wanted to highlight a couple of points in my submission of 5 March. We went through all the documents provided on the model process. I think this is a great document. We really support that. I would be most interested in being involved in that access panel because, in all my experience in access, no matter how good the document is, the real issue is the quality of implementation. That does not happen by just picking up the document. There has got to be an effective process, such as you have outlined, to ensure that we actually get accessible buildings. Even though the APS will minimise the risk of a complaint if applied correctly, it still leaves the opportunity for someone not to apply it correctly. So the process of implementation is really important.

We looked at the guidelines. I made comments about class 2 buildings. In the APS standard I have suggested that that really excellent clause in the current BCA be brought back in. The BCA performance based objective says to provide, as far as reasonable, ‘safe, equitable and dignified access’. I think that was a really great statement in the current documents, and it is missing from the current standard. The draft of AS1428.1 is just so verbose, as are drafts part 4 and part 6. They should be edited dramatically. The current part 1 is 65 pages long. The new part 1 is almost 100 pages. I really think that we have a fairly aware constituency in Australia. I find it very hard to see why the document has expanded by almost 50 per cent.

I made comments on AS1428.1 about sanitary facilities, and that relates to the comment earlier about reasonableness. I really question the need to increase the size of an accessible toilet. From research we have done, even the part 1 toilet is already the biggest accessible toilet in the world, and we are going to make it even bigger again. It is a bit like the door example. We are going to say to everybody who has built a part 1 toilet that in the longer term it has to change again. The lack of research about mandatory requirements for a part 2 toilet really bothers me—unless it was a part 2 toilet with a baby change facility, for example. I have made some comments about that.

AS1428.4 is a huge document of 72 pages, when essentially it is about hazard warning. Unfortunately, I think part 4 has gone a bit off the rails as well, because at the standards committee five or 10 years ago we talked about part 4 becoming a standard about sensory access. We have doubled the size of it. It is still fundamentally about detectable warnings.

Part 6, again, is a huge document. These documents have all got a bit out of hand. They are very, very large documents which make fairly straightforward comments. Nobody wants to go back and redraft them, but there is a duty of care in all this information and documentation for us to focus on the real issues, and I think they are getting a bit blurred. In part 6 there seems to be an anomaly in the parking standard where there is nothing much about one accessible parking space. Because of the way it is drafted, a single parking space effectively becomes a double space. It is a simple amendment. There should be a requirement for a single space as well as a pair of spaces.

They are my main comments. I would be very happy to answer any comments, critiques or suggestions. I am very interested in this process. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. And can I apologise, in a sense, for not being able to spend longer with you, but we are pressed for time. There are a lot of witnesses. We have had a lot of submissions.

Following on from the points you have just been making, I want to ask you a couple of questions about the form of the standard. The first is that this standard, like many other standards, references other standards. We encountered a difficulty right at the start of the process for this inquiry, which was that the premises standard references some standards which are in draft—in other words, they are not yet finalised—and we had to liaise with Standards Australia to make sure that those draft standards which are referenced in the premises standards were made publicly available to make sure that this process could be as informed as possible. Do you have a comment about the way in which the premises standards reference other standards? Is it workable?

Mr Fox —I think so. That is the way the Building Code has been for 30 years. That is why the standards have always had a list at the front of 10 or 20 other standards. But I think to reference a draft standard is really not appropriate. We had a similar situation with the part 4 tactile indicators about 10 years ago when we had the standard in draft. Because we could not agree on the wording between the ABCB and Standards Australia we actually specifically put an interim clause in the BCA on tactile indicators. I think the same process could be used today where anything that is in draft could be paraphrased and put specifically into the premises standard so that when it becomes an adopted standard it would simply replace that clause. I think to legislate for a draft standard seems a bit illogical.

CHAIR —I have a related question. Later today we are going to hear from the Victorian Access Consultants Network. I am not sure whether you have had a chance to look at their submission, but they make the point that there is some inconsistency in the way in which technical detail is dealt with in different parts of the premises standard, pointing out that some sections of the standard contain very detailed technical specifications whereas others simply reference relevant Australian standards. Do you have a comment to make about that alleged inconsistency?

Mr Fox —I have not seen the submission, but—

CHAIR —I have tried to give you a summary of what it says.

Mr Fox —That is okay. I will make a comment about inconsistencies. To me the most glaring inconsistency is the premises standard compared to the transport standard. There are complete misfits between the two documents. For example, the transport standard has different requirements for ramps, toilets and a number of other things and they are in complete disagreement with the new premises standard. When the transport standard was done it adopted a lot of 1428 part 2. Some of part 2 is in the new premises standard and there needs to be a bit of an edit between the premises standard and the transport standard because there are inconsistencies there, for sure. I have not seen the other submission, I am sorry.

Mr SLIPPER —You mentioned that in the United Kingdom you have to do certain things unless there are unreasonable cost issues.

Mr Fox —Topography or cost.

Mr SLIPPER —Exactly. What would be an example of what would be deemed to be an unreasonable cost? The extra requirements we have to make premises available to disabled people is obviously always at a cost, but what is deemed to be an unreasonable cost in the United Kingdom? Is it a percentage?

Mr Fox —It is reasonably new legislation. I think they have a similar access panel that is assessing that. I have many colleagues in similar organisations all over the world. I can certainly get a response on that. I would be interested in fact because their legislation is also called the DDA, as you are probably aware. The UK DDA is very much modelled on the Australian DDA. But there is quite a close fit between the two documents. They have just changed the name of their HREOC equivalent. Jane Campbell is the head of that. I can certainly ask her the level of complaints that have been lodged about that issue.

Mr PERRETT —Similar case law in terms of unjustifiable hardship?

Mr Fox —Exactly. It is the same clause, almost identical, as in the UK legislation. But on the specific point about housing, I think the idea of it was, at an extreme level, if you want to build a house on the top of a mountain somewhere and to get to it you had to rebuild the mountain that would probably be unreasonable from a topographic and cost point of view. It is really aimed in that direction. Of course, the UK’s topography is not as severe as some parts of the world. I would expect that there would not be too many complaints about it. I think that, as I said earlier, the good thing about it is that it is really changing perceptions of that thing called a house. The UK has shown a good example with their taxis, for example. It is the only country in the world where a thing called a taxi is accessible. We tried to get involved in that in Australia a long time ago but we could not beat the Ford and GM stranglehold on their vehicles.

Mr SLIPPER —You mentioned verbosity in documents. Are you arguing with the wording and not so much with the content? Do you think what is in there is okay but it just takes too long to say it?

Mr Fox —In relation to multiple diagrams. As an architect I would very rarely look at all those diagrams if I am designing a building. For example, there are probably 10 different variations of a shower. You know what the dimensions are, you know what the profile is, I do not think you need 10 worked examples. Similarly with tactiles: there must be 20 pages of diagrams of how to put a tactile indicator near a bus stop or something. It is not that hard. I think the documents could be more concise. I think they would get better usability and it would make them more accessible to the public.

Mr ANDREWS —Mr Fox, I believe you were here during the discussion with Mr Hall earlier. I am interested to take his point about class 2 and class 3 a bit further. From your experience, what is the cost differential to provide the standard suggested for class 3 compared to class 2—that is, how much more will it cost as a percentage of the cost of a particular room, given the same dimensions?

Mr Fox —I suppose the room is fundamentally bigger, of course. If you were going to do that you would have wider doorways and you would have increased circulation space. The RIF had something like five per cent as a figure. But, from an overall cost point of view, the real issue is whether it is a new building or a retrofit. In a new building I think it would be very hard to determine any additional costs, because if that is a design requirement it is part of the project. Obviously a retrofit is different. We have done a lot of work in hotels in Sydney, where I live. We have done a lot of five-star hotel work and, typically, the rooms are pretty generous anyway because they are five-star hotels. Typically there has not been too much need for structural change it is more the fixtures and fittings, which are a fairly nominal thing. I think the design agenda is the important thing—that you maintain the design ambience and quality of the room so that if that room is given to a person there will be no problem.

Mr PERRETT —So they would barely even notice?

Mr Fox —Exactly. There is marketing, there is awareness and there is design, and all need to be thought about. I think making class 2 a thing that is adaptable probably raises the bar on all the issues; it becomes more mainstream.

Mr ANDREWS —With a new building there is, of course, an investment cost. If you are talking about a five per cent increase in size per unit, per room, that is obviously a reduction in the number of rooms in the same space.

Mr Fox —Sure. On the other side, maybe one day in a thing called a hotel, like a thing called a taxi, all the rooms will be adaptable or accessible so that we will not have this issue. In my ideal world you would not need these ratios if there were public awareness. We are getting an ageing population and an increased incidence of disability, and some time in the future a conventional hotel room will be an accessible hotel room.

Mr PERRETT —Mr Fox, when you talked about five per cent, was that five per cent all at five-star hotels?

Mr Fox —I would rather check that and come back to you. It was a top-of-the-head figure, really. I could do some worked examples and send them back to you, if you wish.

Mr PERRETT —That would be great. Have you done three-star and four-star hotels as well?

Mr Fox —Yes, sure. We could come back with some actual examples of that and do a calculation.

Mr PERRETT —That is space, not cost?

Mr Fox —I would like to reserve comment on that as well.

Mr PERRETT —Okay.

CHAIR —You have made a submission that you do not think the lessee concession is practical. Just to get it clear: your proposition is that, if a lessee is renovating part of a building, you would impose a path of travel upgrade requirement on the owner?

Mr Fox —It just seems illogical. Unless I am misreading it, it is like saying that, in this building, this lessee is required to make this floor perfectly accessible but you cannot get to it. There is something wrong with the logic. I do not know where it is coming from. Maybe I am misunderstanding it but, as I read it—

CHAIR —There are some commercial issues there—

Mr Fox —I appreciate that, but what is the purpose—

CHAIR —about the building owners being hostage to the lessee’s intentions.

Mr Fox —Yes, sure. It probably needs more debate but, on the face of it, it does not seem to work.

CHAIR —We thank you very much for the detailed suggestions you have made in your written submission and in your comments here today. The secretariat will send you a copy of the transcript for any corrections to be made. Thank you very much for your attendance.

Proceedings suspended from 10.41 am to 10.54 am