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

CHAIR —Thanks very much, Mr Sanderson and Mr Xinos, for appearing before us today. The committee does not require you to speak under oath, but you should understand that these proceedings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament, and giving false or misleading evidence might be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you want to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to some questions?

Mr Xinos —Yes, we would. Thank you, first of all, for giving us the opportunity to share our opinions on the access-to-premises standard today. To begin with, to give you a brief understanding of what we do as an organisation, we are access consultants and provide advice to the building industry to assist them in meeting their obligations with regard to the Disability Discrimination Act, but we also have project management services for clients such as the Transport Accident Commission and the WorkCover Authority in constructing and modifying private dwellings for people who have sustained an injury as a result of an accident in a motor vehicle or in a workplace.

We should begin by stating that we are very supportive of an access-to-premises standard, given that the current method of enforcing what is considered to be in the spirit and intent of the DDA is a complaint based system and places excessive onus on people with disabilities in actually achieving what is set out. Codifying this, bringing it into line with the access code, means that we will see a greater level of compliance and a much greater stock of buildings that are more accessible for people with disabilities. However, having said that, we should also state that there are a number of issues that we are concerned about and we would like to take the first moments of our particular session to outline and highlight some of those. Firstly, the issue of reference standards has come up a number of times.

CHAIR —You have commented on this in your written submission.

Mr Xinos —We have, yes. We feel that the standards should go through a process that ensures they undergo the correct level of scrutiny so that they do end up being robust and complete standards in order for the actual access-to-premises standard to be an effective document as well. An important part of that is obviously timetabling—so, adequate scope for public comments to be provided and amending those standards accordingly—and publishing them at a time that is going to lead into the access-to-premises standard becomes particularly important.

We do not feel that including technical specifications within the access-to-premises standard as it stands is an appropriate way forward. There are plenty of technical specifications within it now, some of them related to signage, some of them related to hearing augmentation/listening systems and, more recently, some of them related to swimming pools. We feel that they make the document convoluted and harder for people to interpret and use. We think that those sorts of technical specifications should sit within their own Australian standard or a relevant Australian standard and be referenced accordingly.

The other thing in regard to standards is that there are a number of superseded standards that are actually referenced to this document, specifically in regard to public transport buildings. This again creates a lot of conflict and lot of ambiguity for designers as well as certifiers out there, and we feel that the most recent form of the standard should be the one that is used uniformly across the document.

We would also like to comment on some of the exemptions and concessions that have been documented within the standard. One is the reference to new and affected buildings—essentially, that only affected parts of existing buildings and new buildings should actually undergo what is required under the access-to-premises standard. We feel that, for one, it means that there is a huge stock of buildings that remain inaccessible; but, for two, it also creates a safety issue. An important example of that is the way that tactile ground surface indicators might be implemented. A tactile ground surface indicator should warn somebody of a particular hazard that is forthcoming. If a new part of a building has tactile indicators at the front of the stairs but then other parts of the building do not have tactile indicators at the front of the stairs, there is an issue of consistency which creates a safety issue for people trying to navigate through the building effectively.

We would like to bring up the matter of the reduced lift size and the exemption for buildings that require a lift size of 1,100 by 400 millimetres where the lifts do not travel more than 12 metres. We generally think that this size of lift is not functional for many wheelchair users. Where it is retained, we think that there should be control panels set on each side of the lift carriage so that people with hemiplegia and who possibly have difficulty using one side of their body can still use those lifts effectively.

Leading on from lift size, we would also like to mention the exemption for buildings that are three stories or less with areas of less than 200 square metres per story. From our understanding, this exemption is a result of the costs that might be borne by a building of a smaller size, like this one. However, in considering this, we now have AS1735 part 16 lifts, which means that lifts can be half their installation cost. We think that that particular concession should also be revisited.

The lessee exemption is of concern to us as well. As previously noted by other presenters today, providing an accessible space within a building and then not being able to get people to the space seems illogical to us as well.

Another issue of major concern is that class 2 as well as class 1 buildings have been completely omitted from the document. Obviously, in an ageing society where ageing and disability correlate quite strongly, the availability of residential buildings suitable for people will become of greater concern as time goes on. Of course, as was discussed earlier, we feel that the provisions for fire and emergency egress have particular shortfalls, especially in buildings that have more than one floor. Essentially, that is a summary of some of the items that we are concerned with.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Xinos. Mr Sanderson, do you want to add to that?

Mr Sanderson —No, I think George has expanded on things.

CHAIR —Your submission at page 1 of the table states:

Where an application for building work is made to a building all existing areas should also be made accessible.

From what you have just said, I take it that, from your point of view, even renovations to a part of a building ought to trigger accessibility requirements for the whole of the public areas of the building to avoid inconsistency between parts of a building?

Mr Xinos —Yes, absolutely. Wayfinding has been brought up on a number of occasions today and obviously creating a building that is going to see some positive wayfinding outcomes means that everything needs to be consistent across the building, inclusive of signage, hazard warnings and any other architectural elements that might highlight entries or tie into other wayfinding information. So, yes, we think it is a crucial component in making buildings accessible.

Mr Sanderson —If I could add to that. We have occupational health and safety laws out there and, ultimately, if we are allowing people to enter into a building, whether it be a new part of a building or a building that has been refurbished, you would expect that they would be able to do that in a safe manner. By only looking at upgrading specific items within a building and not looking at anything existing then you are a basically saying that people should not go into those areas because ultimately they are not going to be safe.

CHAIR —The draft standards propose a review in five years time. Do you have any thoughts about that time period and/or the manner in which the review ought to be conducted?

Mr Sanderson —The draft premises standard references Australian standards, particularly dated documents. If we are looking at a review process in five years, ultimately we will have Australian standards that have been superseded and, unfortunately, not referenced in this document. I think, firstly, that we should be looking at the way we reference Australian standards in this document, putting the standard number but not a date; therefore, they are current. We have seen with the transport standards that the review starts only after the five years. We should be reviewing this document as soon as it is issued. There should be a review process put in place so that in the five years we should have a new document ready to roll out. Therefore, the review process should be over five years and not start in five years.

CHAIR —Some submitters have made the point that there is quite a long lead time in development and construction in Australia and that, while you will get data quickly, presumably, about the application of the premises standard to refurbishment and renovation works, it will be some time before you get any body of data in relation to new buildings.

Mr Sanderson —I still believe that that could be fed into that review over the five years, rather than starting it in five years, and taking that data into account, and then taking another two or three years to reissue a standard. Really, we are talking about a seven-year or eight-year process.

CHAIR —The transport standard review is not yet complete. Your recommendation is for a review process that ends at the end of a five-year period so that, at the end of the first five years from the introduction of the standard, a report is done and ready to act on if need be, rather than starting at the end of five years and taking an indeterminate period.

Mr Sanderson —That is correct. You need only look at the Building Code of Australia—it gets reissued every 12 months. We are trying to tie things into that document, as well. There are large inconsistencies in the whole legislative framework.

Mr Xinos —We are going to a certification system that provides scope to collect more data and direct it towards some sort of review process that is going to be more effective, where previously we did not have this, so maybe there should be an onus on certifiers, local government, to collect data in relation to approvals.

Mr PERRETT —I notice that in your introductory remarks you said that you had some experience in modifying homes for people who have suffered traffic accidents—is that correct?

Mr Sanderson —Yes.

Mr PERRETT —I was wondering whether you could give us some gut feelings or commentary on costs associated with modifying class 1 buildings and whether you have had any experience with buildings that have started from scratch—building from the ground up—rather than modifying them to accommodate someone.

Mr Sanderson —We do not do new builds. Having said that, we have had a range of different developments where we have basically knocked down half the house or put a unit at the back of the premises to accommodate a person with a disability. The cost varies depending on the person’s abilities. The biggest problem we are faced with is getting people to the front entrance and accommodating their vehicles.

Mr PERRETT —Is the philosophy ‘their home is their home’ and that is why you do not start from scratch—that they have connections with the community and therefore you try to modify where they are currently?

Mr Sanderson —That is the main aim in the principle behind the legislation but—and I think Michael touched on it—it is all about reasonableness as well. If it is a two-storey house, we do not go in and put a lift in to gain them access to all of the premises. In the first instance we would look at the ground floor to make it accessible to living spaces, kitchen areas and a bedroom.

Mr PERRETT —So, because you do not start from scratch with a block of dirt—you tend to start with a building you are modifying—could you pass some comment on costs? Is it a lot more expensive than starting from scratch?

Mr Sanderson —No, I would not think it is. As I mentioned before, we have got increased door sizes. Your standard house door varies between 700 and 760. So we are increasing the doors—

Mr PERRETT —Sorry, is that only class 1 or have you done class 2 as well?

Mr Sanderson —We have done a couple of class 2, and the biggest problem there is encouraging the body corporate that this is a requirement under the DDA. They see it as a major concern for them that you are going to affect the look of their building, it is going to impinge on other people’s functionality in the building and they are unaware of—

Mr PERRETT —Impinge, not enhance.

Mr Sanderson —Not enhance, impinge. That has been an issue for us, to try and go back to them and encourage them to actually understand the requirements and understand the need and also prepare themselves for the building’s longevity.

Mr PERRETT —The sinking fund or whatever the Victorian equivalent is must take a bit of a hit in those class 2 examples.

Mr Xinos —Which funds?

Mr PERRETT —The maintenance fund for the body corporate. I am not sure what you call that in Victoria.

Mr Sanderson —Most of the modifications are afforded by the TAC, so if there is a requirement to put a ramp out the front of the building then it will be paid by the TAC.

Mr PERRETT —Rather than the tenants.

Mr Sanderson —That is correct. But currently you are seeing buildings out there that have four of five steps to get into the main entrance. The difficult factor is that it is sometimes hard because you do not have the land to actually modify this building. So, whilst people have purchased within a building for long term, sometimes they may have to move out of the building and move out of their community and so forth and then restart somewhere else, which is not the best possible outcome. If you look at class 2s, and this is why we have requested that they be put into this document, you make them accessible at the front door, you get people to the unit entrances, you make the common spaces accessible. Internally they are a lot more adaptable then.

Mr PERRETT —They might or might not.

Mr Sanderson —That is correct. The important thing to understand here is that people’s abilities vary greatly, so the modifications you have to do for residential apartments will vary as well. A lot of people feel comfortable in minor modifications to their facilities.

Mr PERRETT —I think you were here for Mr Fox’s presentation earlier, talking about the UK. You are suggesting that there should be access to all buildings, effectively, to the front door, with the UK exemption if it is on a hill or a treehouse of whatever?

Mr Sanderson —I agree with the exemptions on topography and unjustifiable hardship, for instance.

Mr PERRETT —The thinking would be that with every building everyone should be able to get to the front door, effectively.

Mr Xinos —A proportion of buildings should also allow for a good level of adaptability at a later stage internally.

Mr ANDREWS —So your proposition is that prospectively all buildings have what I would call universal access to the common areas. Is that the proposition?

Mr Sanderson —Class 2s to the common areas, class 1s to the front door.

Mr ANDREWS —So that would include common areas at various levels for higher buildings.

Mr Sanderson —Swimming pools, gymnasiums, garden areas, barbecue areas.

Mr ANDREWS —And floors up.

Mr Sanderson —Yes.

Mr ANDREWS —And when you say adaptability, can I tease out a bit further what you mean by adaptability. Presumably it is for the areas beyond the common areas, that is, for the strata title owned by a particular individual. What do you have in mind?

Mr Sanderson —Internally, it is a design principle—putting a toilet facility adjacent to a bathroom where you can remove a wall, and putting tiling underneath. This is probably not really part of the premises standard but, being able to tile completely under a floor that might have a centre bench area, you can remove the bench area to open the kitchen out. It reduces the costs for adapting that facility and it is not a great increase in costs for that facility.

Mr Xinos —But from the word go, we should also have wider doorways and hallways leading throughout the sole occupancy unit itself, because those are obviously high-cost items when you do need to adapt them at a later stage.

Mr ANDREWS —I am not familiar with the British provisions. Is that prospective or does it include any retrospectivity as well?

Mr Xinos —We are not really making reference to the UK standards because I am not entirely familiar with them either. We are suggesting that this would be an appropriate way going forward for us in Australia.

Mr ANDREWS —But again, prospectively.

Mr Xinos —Yes.

Mr Sanderson —Yes. You have to understand that currently in New South Wales they put requirements on as part of the planning rules. It varies between five per cent, 15 per cent and 20 per cent. Here in Victoria some councils put requirements, varying between five and 20 per cent, on new developments that are required to be adaptable. The developers out there currently do not know what they need to do, so they are coming to the likes of our Access fraternity or our network and talking to us about what they need to do for adaptability.

Mr PERRETT —If I could also tease adaptability out, could the hallway, if it is 1200 wide, contain bookshelves, thus making it smaller than 1200 but, if you needed to adapt it, you could take the bookshelves out? Are there clever things like that that you can do with space—office space as well—that, depending on the clientele, you could change it?

Mr Xinos —The current standard for adaptability—4299—suggests that, at the point of designing the building, you also show a floor plan in its post-adapted state. So all those sorts of things—fittings and furniture, and internal partitions also—could be implemented in that way. Stud walls that are not load bearing are easily moved as well. All these things could be taken into account.

Mr SLIPPER —I apologise if this has been covered but I am interested in the fact that your submission recommends that, where an application for building work is made to a building, all existing areas should also be made accessible. What do you mean by ‘existing areas’? Isn’t that quite a dramatic statement insofar as, if it was a relatively minor application but all existing areas had to be made accessible, that could be at quite an extraordinary cost?

Mr Sanderson —Without looking at an example—and we touched on this before—it is more about the health and safety of the amenity in our initial summary that we did at the beginning of our submission. We talked about the likes of tactile ground surface indicators. If you were putting in a new stair, that stair would only be required to have the tactiles, whereas you may have existing stairs within the facility that you do not put tactiles in. So there is an inconsistency. I believe that, whilst—without an example—you might have a range of changes of levels within a facility, it becomes unsafe for occupants with vision impairments. That is where we are directing that—the health and safety and the amenity of the facility. Here in Victoria we have OH&S requirements for designers to consider and show that they are making a building safe when they design it. Without looking at the existing parts of it, we are leaving it halfway.

Mr SLIPPER —It is just that I thought, if you take that too far, it could be a disincentive to do a redevelopment.

Mr Sanderson —I do not disagree with that comment but, as I said, you would need to have a look at some of the examples and what the accessibility requirements are. I could go through a range of multilevel buildings that are generally accessible to every level and then we limit the access by putting in a small door. That would not be an expensive thing to change. We do not put accessible toilet facilities on every level. That would be expensive—approximately $35,000 to $40,000.

CHAIR —If I have understood your submission correctly, you are suggesting that access should be provided to all levels of classes 5, 6, 7b and 8—the small building category, or buildings up to three storeys. Do you make that recommendation regardless of cost?

Mr Sanderson —Yes.

CHAIR —What I am trying to focus on is the fact that, presently, the premises standard exempts small buildings where upper floors are less than 200 square metres, which, we have heard from other submitters and witnesses, is something that has been fairly heavily negotiated.

Mr Sanderson —I disagree with that clause because we are limiting people’s access to the range of classes which might have in them doctors surgeries, consulting rooms or a range of services that the general public should be able to access. There are opportunities out there to provide access to those facilities. Then again, we might have restaurants going in there which have the same offer on every level, so in those cases I believe it is a fair and reasonable decision that we only provide access to the ground floor because the offer is on every level.

CHAIR —I appreciate the submission is driven by a concern for general accessibility. Is it driven also by a sense you have of the prevalence of this class of small buildings and their use in the provision of services, particularly in the suburban shopping-strip setting?

Mr Sanderson —I think you find in those sorts of settings that your local member goes into one of those—

CHAIR —We generally fight against Parliamentary Services when they try to give us an upstairs space, for that very reason of accessibility.

Mr Sanderson —or your local accountant or lawyer. We are reducing the opportunity for people to access services by limiting that. Within this premises standard there is provision for a part-17 lift, which is a smaller, limited mobility lift which can service these facilities and offer access to them. The price of that is probably half that of a standard lift, and the value that that adds to the service that is up there is massive. We have a population in which approximately 20 per cent have a disability—and that is those who declare their disability, so the percentage is probably higher. We also have their companions, carers, friends and associates. The marketing opportunity, depending on the numbers who would go upstairs, is massive. I have heard people from AQA who have done some statistical research—we do not have it with us—talk about 60 per cent, so your marketing share could be increased by 60 per cent.

Mr PERRETT —I wonder if you could send that stuff to the Australian Tourism and Transport Forum. In relation to small buildings, one of the submissions we have heard was that the exemption would not apply if it was a health related service. What would be your thoughts if, rather than an MP or an accountant, it was a health related service?

Mr Sanderson —I would be concerned about that, because unfortunately businesses do not stay in one space for very long. Once you build a building—and we have talked about adaptability—it is hard to adapt. So I think we have got to look at the building itself rather than the organisation that is going into it. In existing buildings I think that is something that we could obviously take into an upgrade process, but for new buildings I think access should be—

Mr PERRETT —Could you take me back to what you said about the lift? You said it was a clause—

Mr Sanderson —It is a part 16 lift. It is fully automatic. It does about a metre every two seconds or something. It is a slow lift, but it is limited use. So you are looking at people with disabilities but you are also looking at parents with prams. It is pretty difficult to carry prams upstairs, as we all know. You are also looking at the ageing community, who have the opportunity to get up to a second level without having to have a rest every second or third step.

Mr PERRETT —Is there less maintenance and less on-costs for those types of lifts? I am not familiar with them.

Mr Sanderson —I probably could not say whether they need less maintenance. It depends on the use.

Mr Xinos —I think the critical thing there is that probably the current RIS is based on the lifts that are basically considered to be compliant with the Building Code at the moment. When you take into consideration that there is another type of lift that could be implemented that is significantly cheaper, then possibly the costs in these sorts of buildings and the benefit becomes a very different equation altogether.

CHAIR —We are going to end this session. Thank you very much, Mr Sanderson and Mr Xinos. I thank you both for the very detailed written submission and for attending today.

Proceedings suspended from 11.57 am to 12.52 pm