Margaret Ward

Australia’s slap on the wrist: United Nations recommends mandated access in all new and modified housing

Presenter: Margaret Ward, Convener, Australian Network for Universal Housing Design

Oral Presentation

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities obliges State Parties, including Australia to embrace the principles of universal design as a guide for all of its activities. 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 presentation focuses on Australia’s response to the Strategy’s aspirational target that all new homes will be of agreed universal design standards by 2020. It compares the progress reports to the United Nations from the Australian Government with those from disability organisations over the last decade.  It also reports on the positions taken by the government’s human rights commissioners at the Commonwealth, States and Territories.

It exposes the Australian Government’s disregard for the Strategy’s commitment. It also evidences the importance of advocacy and a direct line of communication to the United Nations from people with lived experience. The United Nations identified early that the voluntary 2020 target would not be met, and was astute enough to consider the Australian Civil Society Shadow Report over that of the Attorney General on the progress to the target. The OHCR recommended in September 2019 that Australia amend the National Construction Code with mandatory rules on access for all new and extensively modified housing.

Given that the formal process of considering a minimum access standard for all housing in the National Construct Code is now well underway, there is some hope that net benefit to society is recognised to be greater than the immediate financial costs to the housing market.  Again, it will take the voice of people with the lived experience and those who represent them to make the argument. It will not be the government.