The Premises Standards assist people with disability to have dignified access to public buildings. They also have broader implications and benefits to the community. Improved access to buildings can benefit older people, people with injuries or illness, and parents with young children. The Premises Standards are an essential link in the whole of journey experience and enable people with disability to participate in society.
Over 4.4 million people in Australia have some form of disability. Australians aged 65 and over represent approximately 45% of all people with disability. This reflects Australia's changing demographics and the types of disability that reviews of the Premises Standards must consider.
The National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 signalled a shift by Australian governments and social and community services towards rights-based approaches. Rights-based approaches can remove barriers and promote greater access for people with disability. To ensure our society is inclusive and accessible, Australia's Disability Strategy requires a comprehensive and coordinated response across all Australian governments, business and community sectors.
The Premises Standards support several other Australian Government policies and public enquiries:
- Australia's Disability Strategy 2021–2031, including these outcome areas:
- Inclusive Home and Communities
- Employment and Financial Security
- Personal and Community Support
- Health and Wellbeing
- Disability Employment Strategy (DES) 2022–25 Action 10.
- The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
- The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety delivered its final report on 26 February 2021. Some of its recommendations align with the Premises Standards, particularly Recommendation 45: Improving the design of aged care accommodation.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is still ongoing. The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources will continue to monitor issues being raised at this royal commission.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Premises Standards are one part of incorporating this UN convention into domestic law. The Committee on the Rights of Person with Disability considered the combined second and third periodic report submitted by Australia under this convention and released its conclusion on 15 October 2019.
The committee recommended that Australia progress work towards a national framework for reporting compliance with the Premises Standards and Transport Standards. It also recommended taking legislative and policy measures to address information and communication technologies and systems and ensure effective sanctions for non-compliance with the Premises Standards.
This review considered the committee’s recommendations. This review’s recommendations will help achieve the committee’s objectives.
About the Premises Standards
The Premises Standards:
- apply to new public buildings
- apply to new work (like renovations) on existing public buildings
- could apply to an existing building
- cover common areas of apartment buildings
- do not cover people’s homes.
The Access Code in the appendix of the Premises Standards is replicated in the National Construction Code (NCC) and enforced through state and territory building laws and regulations.
Non-compliance with the Premises Standards is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has the power to investigate and resolve complaints of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of disability. If AHRC mediation does not resolve the issue, the affected individual can commence legal proceedings in the Federal Court in certain circumstances.
Sections 21B and 29A of the Disability Discrimination Act allow an exception to the requirement to comply with the Act where compliance would impose unjustifiable hardship. This provides a legal means of defending a decision not to comply with the Premises Standards if the decision is subject to a complaint. However, there is no mechanism in the Disability Discrimination Act or Premises Standards that allows prior approval for non-compliance on the grounds of unjustifiable hardship. Only a court can determine whether or not unjustifiable hardship is an appropriate defence for non-compliance based on the individual facts of a case.
Under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, if the court is satisfied that there has been unlawful discrimination, it may make orders such as it thinks fit, including damages by way of compensation. However, our stakeholders told us that access to justice and the lack of penalties under the Disability Discrimination Act was an issue. Stakeholders indicated that any future review of the Disability Discrimination Act should prioritise access to justice and a penalty regime to deter non-compliance with disability standards.
The 2016 review
The first review of the Premises Standards was completed in 2016. It made 6 overarching recommendations and another 38 sub-recommendations. It also proposed 30 technical amendments to the Premises Standards.
The government agreed to a number of recommendations, which were implemented in a staged approach. These include:
- providing adult accessible change facilities
- technical amendments to align the Premises Standards with the NCC
- establishing an expert advisory group to consider and provide advice on a range of issues under the Premises Standards.
The Premises Standards were amended in September 2020 to include some of the recommended changes.