Signing up to a United Nations (UN) convention isn’t just a feel-good affair. It actually brings obligations with it. That means reporting on a regular basis to the relevant UN committee. In Australia, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department is responsible for the government reports on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it isn’t all up to the government. People with disability must also be involved. Their reports are known as “Civil Society Shadow Reports”. This is where the story gets interesting when it comes to housing.
Margaret Ward’s paper, Universal design in housing: Reporting on Australia’s obligations to the UNCRPD, traces the reporting history specifically relating to housing. She writes that the Commonwealth Government has avoided action by doing nothing. Further, it has not adequately reported on this failure to act. But the story does not end here.
The Australian Building Codes Board is looking at options to include universal design features in the National Construction Code. It’s using a cost-benefit analysis framework. But if we are to meet our UN obligations, we cannot allow cost, if any, to be the barrier. If we argue that rights cannot be afforded we are saying that people with disability cost too much.
This peer reviewed paper was written for the UD2020 Conference that was to be held May 2020, which is now to be held May 2021. It is published on the Griffith University publications website where you can find other papers for the conference.
Abstract :The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) obliges Australia, as a State Party, to embrace the concept of universal design as a guide for its activities. The UNCRPD triggered significant changes in the last decade directed by the 2010-2020 National Disability Strategy (the Strategy), with its vision for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.
This paper reviews Australia’s national and international reports on these obligations over the last decade focusing on Australia’s response to the Strategy’s commitment in 2011 to support the ‘National Dialogue agreement’, a self-regulatory approach to incorporate universal design in housing. It argues that both the Australian government and the housing industry largely disregarded the National Dialogue agreement, and misrepresented to the United Nations the progress made in achieving accessibility within the housing stock. It evidences the importance of advocacy and a direct line of communication to the United Nations from people with lived experience, something the United Nations relied on to discover that the National Dialogue agreement had failed.
Given this past disregard and willingness to misrepresent the facts, the Australian governments will need to be monitored closely in the consideration of a minimum access standard for all housing in the National Construction Code. The question remains whether a net benefit to society will be found to be of greater priority than the self-interests of the private housing sector and the political vagaries of government. Again, it will take the voice of people with lived experience and those who represent them to make the argument.