2 December 2008
Today, the Rudd Government took an important step as part of our long term plan to achieve better outcomes for people with disability and their families. On the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Government tabled draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards in this House. The Government proposes to move that they be referred to the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The Premises Standards are tabled on behalf of both me and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. We propose to ask the Committee to conduct consultations on the draft Premises Standards and to report to Parliament in the first half of 2009.
The Premises Standards are an important part of the Rudd Government’s social inclusion agenda. They will ensure that people with disability have improved access to a wide range of public buildings.
Improved building access will give people with mobility, vision and hearing impairments greater opportunities to access employment and other services, helping them to better connect with family, friends and the local community.
Greater accessibility of public buildings will also benefit older Australians with mobility constraints – which is increasingly important as our population ages.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 currently contains a broadly-stated obligation to provide non-discriminatory access to premises that are accessible to the public or a section of the public. The obligation in the Act is enforced by individual complaints of discrimination. In practice, this has resulted in a lack of clarity and a low level of improvement in access to premises. The complaints process can be costly and stressful. And while a resolved complaint can lead to an individual remedy, it will not achieve systemic change.
The Premises Standards are intended to achieve more consistent, systemic and widespread improvements in non-discriminatory access for people with disability to publicly accessible buildings.
The Premises Standards will specify the type of access that will comply with Australia’s disability discrimination system. They will help reduce red tape – by harmonising the requirements with the Building Code of Australia, which in turn, is adopted by State and Territory building law. This will mean a building constructed in compliance with the Building Code will also be compliant with the non\”‘discrimination requirements in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. This will provide certainty to building owners, managers and developers.
The Premises Standards recognise practical realities of what can reasonably be required and enforced. They will apply to new buildings and existing buildings only to the extent that they are undergoing significant upgrade work. They will not apply at all to private residences. They also contain an exemption to cover situations where meeting the Standards would cause unjustifiable hardship for the persons undertaking the upgrade.
The Premises Standards have been a long time coming. Regrettably, the former Government was unable to deliver them. On coming to office, the Rudd Government has made these a priority. We have made significant progress in being able to table draft Standards in 12 months. This is a further demonstration of the Rudd Government’s strong commitment to recognising the human rights of all Australians. Both the Australian Building Codes Board and the Australian Human Rights Commission should be congratulated for the significant role they have played in the development of the Standards. Various representatives, individuals and organisations from the disability and industry sectors have also made important contributions.
I specifically acknowledge the work and commitment of the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Kim Carr, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, the Hon Bill Shorten MP.
The Premises Standards are an important step in removing discriminatory barriers for people with disability.
The Rudd Government has a long term plan and is committed to being a regional and international leader for people with disabilities and their families. The Government worked hard to ensure Australia became one of the first Western countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities earlier this year, and was proud to support Professor Ron McCallum AO as Australia’s successful nominee for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Premises Standards will also complement the Government’s work to improve the rights of people with disability at home. The Rudd Government is committed to a whole of government National Disability Strategy to increase participation, social inclusion and support for people with a disability and their carers. And tomorrow I will introduce long overdue amendments to improve the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act.
We must work harder to fully include people with disability in the social, economic and cultural life of the country. This is an important step in the right direction.
I thank the House.