At last! The national Building Ministers’ Meeting agreed to change the building code to mandate accessible features in all new homes. This represents a major social change in Australia. While evidence showed that Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines was the most cost effective, Silver will do for now. However, there is still work to do.
The building ministers were not unanimous in their decision. The Communique released after their meeting gives states and territories discretion in applying the changes. It states, “Each state and territory will be free to determine whether and how the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction to minimise the regulatory impact on the construction sector.”
WA, NSW and SA do not support the changes. That means they will not adopt them in their state based legislation – at least, not right away. Queensland and Victoria are keen to get going with the new legislation.
Potentially, the property industry will find it inconvenient to work with differing codes across jurisdictions and decide to conform regardless. But that will mean longer time frames before full implementation. It also means more confusion for everyone.
So, from October 2022, those states that support the changes will have new homes designed to Silver level. A voluntary guide for Gold will be developed to encourage the industry to go beyond minimum. This will be a better match for the old adaptable housing standard AS4299 for those who want to go beyond minimums.
Who said what to the CRPD Committee about housing
The international Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability asked Australia some important questions about accessible housing. The answers depend on who you ask. The Australian Government indicated it was doing OK. Australian Human Rights Commission said a lot more needed to be done, including regulation. The Australian Civil Society Report, which provides the perspective of people with disability, said aspirational targets by industry haven’t worked, so it has to be mandated.
Australian Network on Universal Housing design has more detail and links to the various documents: Who said what to the CRPD Committee about Australia’s lack of accessible housing.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) led the campaign for change for almost 20 years. ANUHD is a national network of committed volunteers who meet via Zoom every month. Dr Margaret Ward’s leadership and determination were instrumental to the campaign’s success. Her many letters over many years to politicians and others in power positions eventually paid off. Make no mistake, this change was not given willingly. And that is the never-ending story of all human rights campaigns.
The success of the campaign is also due to the recent push by the Summer Foundation and their financial support for extra research and a campaign director.
CUDA has actively supported the campaign and congratulates all involved. This issue has been a regular feature across the six years of this website. If you are interested in the history, the section of this website on Housing Design Policy has several posts. Universal Design in Housing in Australia: Getting to Yes, by Dr Ward provides an history of the campaign and the barriers advocates faced.