Monday, 15 March 2010
Access All Areas Report
by leave—On 2 December 2008 the Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland MP, on behalf of himself and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon. Kim Carr, tabled the draft premises standards for consideration and review by the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The committee provided its report on 15 June 2009. Today I table the government’s response to that report. In tabling the government’s response, it is appropriate to thank the members of the committee, chaired by Mr Mark Dreyfus MP QC, for their outstanding and important contribution in assessing and reviewing the draft premises standards.
The report made 19 recommendations, to which the government has taken a practical and positive approach in its response to the report. The committee’s primary recommendation was that the premises standards be made as soon as possible. The committee also recommended a number of changes to the standards themselves. It recommended changes to the requirements of unjustifiable hardship and exemptions and widening the coverage of bed and breakfast establishments within the scope of the standards. The government has fully or substantially adopted all these recommendations. The committee also recommended apartment buildings be included within the scope of the standards. The government has accepted this in part. New apartment buildings will be covered by the standards. The question of including existing apartment buildings will also be reviewed three years from the standards being adopted. The government will be taking steps to refer a number of matters to the Australian Building Codes Board for further investigation, consistent with its responses to recommendations 6, 10, 15 and 16.
The committee recommended that review of the standards be subject to commencement and completion dates. This has also been agreed. A review on the effectiveness of the premises standards will begin within four years and be completed within five years of their commencement. Although not accepting the need for legislative provision, as proposed in recommendation 19, the government accepts that the review would include such matters as the operation of various exemptions and concessions, and the adequacy of provisions relating to accessibility features, amongst a range of other issues.
I also table today, on behalf of the government, the Disability (Access to Premises—Building) Standards 2010 and the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport Amendment 2010 (No. 1). These standards give legislative effect to the government’s response to the committee’s recommendations, including the key recommendation to implement the standards without further delay.
The premises standards are an important part of the Rudd government’s social inclusion agenda. On coming to office, the government made it a priority to deliver these standards. Today it delivers a reform that will provide greater and more dignified access for people with a disability. There are approximately four million people with a disability in Australia, and as the population ages this number is expected to increase. The premises standards make a range of improvements on the requirements currently in place under state and territory building law. The premises standards progressively ensure that people with a disability and the ageing population are afforded greater opportunities to access employment and services, helping them connect with family, friends and the community. The premises standards will also provide greater certainty to the building industry by setting out minimum standards for accessibility to ensure that they are meeting relevant obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. The transport standards amendments are complementary to the premises standards, and are associated with the inclusion of coverage of public transport buildings under the premises standards.
Looking forward, there is still work to be done to harmonise the requirements in the standards with state and territory building law. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research have written to all states and territories seeking their cooperation to carry this process to completion and meet the 1 May 2011 commencement date of these standards. The government will continue to work hard to improve the rights of people with a disability and fully include them in the social, economic and cultural life of this country. The premises standards are a very important step in this direction. I thank the House.
I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Stirling to speak for four minutes.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Stirling speaking for a period not exceeding four minutes.
Question agreed to.
Most of us in this chamber would take for granted accessing buildings and public transport, but there are many Australians for whom attending meetings, getting to work or attending premises to conduct just normal everyday transactions is a major logistical task. The opposition supports the goal of improving accessibility to better enable people with disabilities to take part in work and social life.
The statement and standards tabled today are in response to the report tabled on Monday, 15 July 2009 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on its inquiry into the draft disability access to premises building standards. The opposition would like to acknowledge the work of the committee members in relation to this inquiry and to commend them on their report. The coalition is committed to supporting initiatives to provide and improve accessibility, equity, opportunity and choice for all Australians. We certainly support, in principle, the objectives of the standards.
As the House will appreciate, the opposition only received a copy of the ministerial statement and standards this morning. We would like to take some time to study them and have a look at what has actually been tabled here today. We understand the government have undertaken consultations following their report with relevant parties, and the opposition will as appropriate be talking to stakeholders, such as the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, in the near future to obtain their views on the proposed changes.
In principle, the opposition are supportive of measures that will improve accessibility and we will study the regulations. I would like to restate that the coalition support moves to make buildings and public spaces more accessible to all Australians.