ACT Government secures national mandatory accessible standards

Australian Greens

The ACT Government has secured national reform to the National Construction Code, with all new homes built across Australia to include minimum accessibility standards.

At the national meeting of Building Ministers on Friday afternoon (30 April), the majority agreed to include minimum accessibility standards for residential housing and apartments in the National Construction Code 2022 based on the Livable Housing Design Guidelines silver standards.

Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti said she was delighted to have secured this national reform.

“This is a win for the community,” Minister Vassarotti said. “Modest but significant changes will mean housing built in the future will better meet needs. This is important not only for people with disabilities, mobility issues, or who are ageing. This reform is for all of us.

“This reform has come after the work of advocates over decades who have raised issues and highlighted the failure of housing stock to meet community needs. Progressive jurisdictions have come together to achieve this reform.

“The ACT Government believes that everyone deserves a home that fits their needs, regardless of age, disability, background or other factors. I am glad that the majority of the my fellow Building Ministers agree with me that all new homes built in Australia should be built to minimum accessibility standards.

“Over the past 10 years we have tried voluntary guidelines, which have failed. Mandatory standards will result in significant and lasting benefit to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features.

“These are minimum standards but this is a start of a journey of ensuring universal design in all homes.

“We will ensure that industry is supported through these changes and I assure them there will be sufficient time between the introduction of these new standards, giving them time to prepare and adapt.”

In agreeing to implement a regulatory solution, Ministers took into consideration the feedback from Australian Building Codes Board, industry, advocates and the lived experience of members of the community affected by the lack of accessible housing.

Ministers also agreed the Australian Building Codes Board will publish a voluntary gold technical standard for accessible housing.

The move to implement mandatory accessibility standards fulfils an ACT Government commitment in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement of the 10th Legislative Assembly.

As stated by Michael Bleasdale, Executive Officer of Rights & Inclusion Australia:

“This marks a new chapter in the journey to progress toward a goal of universal housing design within Australia, which in turn will be the cornerstone of inclusion for all in the community. The inclusion of silver technical standards in the National Construction Code will, over time, ensure that people with disability, older people and many others in our community will be able to find housing across all markets, and will be able to modify these easily and at minimal cost when their individual needs change.

“We have some concern about the option within the BMM’s Communiqué for states and territories to determine whether the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction, and will be closely monitoring statements from NSW, Western Australia and South Australia in particular about how they will implement the changes after 2022. What is needed now is certainty for consumers that they will have access to a product that enables all people to live in housing anywhere across Australia, and not another postcode lottery.”

As stated by Craig Wallace, ACTCOSS Head of Policy:

“ACTCOSS congratulates Minister Vassarotti and the ACT Government for their leadership in supporting the inclusion of mandated standards for accessible housing in the National Construction Code which was agreed by a majority of Ministers yesterday. The ACT has been a leader on this and came out early in support. It’s important to acknowledge the work of the late Sue Salthouse – we lead various campaigns together for universal design in Canberra since the 1990’s.

“While the next steps are for the States and Territories, this is a gamechanger and means that a lack of regulation can no longer be cited as an excuse for not getting on with the job of building homes that are adaptable and fit for purpose for the millions of Australians with disabilities and older people who need housing that can adjust to their needs.”

The Building Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué April 2021 can be read here https://www.industry.gov.au/news/building-ministers-meeting-communique-april-2021

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