Labor pushes NSW further behind on accessible housing

Labor is following in the footsteps of their Coalition predecessors by putting people with disability last, plunging NSW into the dark ages compared to the rest of Australia on accessible housing.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:43): I move:

(1) That this House acknowledges the Building Better Homes campaign and its success in lobbying Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania to successfully commit to adopting the new mandatory minimum accessibility standards in the National Construction Code.

(2) That this House notes that:

(a) since Australia's voluntary Livable Housing Design Guidelines were introduced in 2010, only 5 per cent of new home builds meet accessibility standards;

(b) there is a growing demand for accessible housing, due to Australia's ageing population and the number of Australians with disability and mobility limitations projected to almost double over the next 40 years;

(c) there are significant challenges and exclusion that the current lack of accessible housing creates for people with disability and older people, in their own homes and any home they visit;

(d) ensuring a consistent national approach to regulating accessibility standards in Australia would support not only people with mobility limitations but all Australians to live with dignity and support; and

(e) New South Wales is one of only two States in Australia that have not yet committed to adopting the minimum accessibility standards.

(3) That this House calls on the Government to formally implement the new mandatory minimum accessibility standards set out in the revised National Construction Code which have been adopted by almost every State and Territory in Australia, and stand with the Building Better Homes campaign in supporting the quality of life of Australians with mobility limitations.

A house is so much more than a place you come and go from. It is a home. That is why we have minimum building requirements so that every home is created with the same core standards of comfort, safety and ease of access. A survey conducted in 2020 found that over 70 per cent of people with mobility limitations in Australia are living in housing that does not meet their accessibility needs. That is why as of today Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania have all committed to implement the Livable Housing Australia [LHA] silver accessibility standards laid out in the 2022 National Construction Code. From 1 October 2023, all new homes built in all those States and Territories will meet those standards. But despite the majority of Australia committing to mandate those most basic accessibility requirements, the previous New South Wales Coalition Government, and now the current New South Wales Labor Government, has made the choice to reject the standards. Mandating the standards across the whole of Australia is the bare minimum to ensure all people can live in or enter any home regardless of their mobility needs.

One in five people in New South Wales live with disability and by 2036 an estimated one in five people in New South Wales will be aged 65 and over. There is no doubt that the demand for accessible housing is increasing, as is public awareness of just how profoundly inaccessible housing impacts the daily lives of the people in our State with mobility limitations. The construction of buildings, transport, housing and all infrastructure in our society is underpinned by structural ableism that permeates the entire system in which we live. The way that we build houses, and all buildings, disables countless people every day from completing daily tasks, getting from point A to point B, and even entering doorways.

A significant portion of the housing stock in our State was built before the 1970s and does not come close to meeting basic accessibility requirements, not to mention the incredibly harrowing lack of affordable housing available for not only people with disability but also the vast majority of people in our communities. Ensuring that new homes built meet the same accessibility as the rest of the nation is only a small and modest step in scraping the top of the housing crisis we are faced with, so why can we not get it done?

The entire disability sector fought for the LHA gold standards, which are not even the highest level of best practice standards—that being platinum—to be the mandated provisions in the National Construction Code. With inevitable push back from private property developers and parts of the construction sector, we ended up with the silver standards which will incur only a 1 per cent increase to the cost of building new homes, if that. States and Territories in Australia not only have committed to implement the silver standards, but also have taken strides to ensure a technical referral pathway is in place so that each of them can gradually upgrade to meet a gold level accessibility standard for new homes built.

My Greens colleague in the Federal Parliament Max Chandler-Mather recently secured a commitment that all social and affordable housing built under the Housing Australia Future Fund within each State must meet the National Construction Code silver standard for accessibility. That is an excellent step forward and will ensure that more people will be able to live in affordable and accessible homes. It also reaffirms national support for using the silver standards as a base level for how we should be building all housing.

Yesterday the Labor Government handed down its first budget in 12 years. It is a modest budget that will not be making leaps and bounds in changing people's lives, particularly people with a disability. There is absolutely nothing in there specifically for people with disability. Vital services have been cut, like the Park'nPay app, while others have been tacked on as a mere afterthought, like the Transport Access Program being lumped in with the Commuter Car Park Program. I have spoken many times in this place about how budgets are about choices. It is clear that this Government, like the one before it, is choosing to put people with disability last. I stood before the former Coalition Government multiple times and said it was not too late to make the choice to mandate the National Construction Code minimum accessibility standards for all new homes. At the time then shadow Ministers Penny Sharpe and Courtney Houssos joined me in condemning the Coalition for failing to take action on the matter as the government of the day, despite the slightly lukewarm reception.

The Labor Government before us has the opportunity to improve the living conditions of millions of people in our State who already face structural ableism in every other aspect of their lives. Implementing the silver standards is only a small step forward in the right direction, but it is one we must take. If we do not, we are only pushing New South Wales further behind the rest of the country in achieving progress that will make a tangible difference in people's day-to-day lives. I refer to the great words of friend and The Greens member Jane Scott who said, "You do not need to look any further than a step in a doorway to know when people with a disability are not welcome."

The Labor Government then gave a harrowingly disappointing response, affirming their rejection of any kind of change to accessible housing standards. 

The Hon. COURTNEY HOUSSOS (Minister for Finance, and Minister for Natural Resources) (20:49): I lead for the Government to oppose the motion, but I would like to thank Ms Abigail Boyd for bringing the motion. It is certainly an issue that I have spoken to her about over many years, including in my previous capacity as the shadow Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation. I highlight that the Government is acutely aware of the need for the market to deliver an appropriate level of accessible housing stock that will address the needs of people living with a disability and aging Australians. In working towards achieving this, the Government has a mix of policy settings planned to bolster accessible housing stock throughout New South Wales. These include all new social and affordable housing built by the New South Wales Government being constructed to silver level accessibility standards; at least 30 per cent of medium- to high‑density dwellings built by Landcom meeting or, indeed, exceeding the silver level accessibility standard; and the New South Wales Apartment Design Guide, which is given effect through the State Environmental Planning Policy No 65—Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development, encouraging that 20 per cent of apartments within new residential apartment buildings achieve a minimum silver level.

While the Government understands the important part that accessible housing plays in bringing together the social fabric of the community through its ability to deliver equitable living and dignified aging outcomes among the vulnerable in our community, the Government is also attuned to the cost-of-living crisis faced by all Australians right now. The mandatory requirement for accessible housing in the National Construction Code comes at a cost that, if not managed appropriately, can impose adverse outcomes on the affordability of new homes and impact on the supply of housing stock in general. I note that our counterparts in Victoria have recently delayed the adoption of the National Construction Code accessible housing standards until 1 May 2024. The Victorian Government, like the New South Wales Government, is alert to the challenges the building industry is experiencing because of the current significant global economic uncertainty and the cost implications of affordable housing.

This leaves the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Queensland as the only remaining jurisdictions to commence the National Construction Code accessible housing provisions from 1 October 2023. The Government is committed to actively monitoring the policy settings around the delivery of the accessible housing provisions and the requirements of the National Construction Code. It is for that reason the Government is unable to support the motion at this stage. However, the New South Wales Government will continue to engage with other States and Territories at forums such as the Building Ministers' Meeting prior to adopting a position.

Other Members including additional Labor members and the Coalitition contributed to the debate, and then Abigail spoke in reply.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (21:01): In reply: I have been fighting this issue alongside the community for many years. I fluctuate between being incredibly sad and incredibly angry at the reaction that it gets. The ignorance and sheer stupidity—and I do not use those words lightly—of the contributions to the motion have made me very angry. First, we heard that it goes too far. The one in four people who have a mobility need are also suffering from the housing crisis. The actual figures—not the ones provided by the construction industry or property developers—tell us that including those very standard things that apply across the rest of Australia will cost 1 per cent extra. If a person finds themselves with a mobility issue and wants to retrofit their home, the cost of doing so in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis is enormous. It is way more than the 1 per cent that it would cost if it was built at the beginning.

Government members were crowing about new social houses and having the silver standard apply. That standard will only apply because the Federal Government is making sure it does in order for the State Government to get $1 billion from the Federal Government. How dare Government members rest on that. They are completely ignoring at least one in four people in New South Wales who have mobility needs and saying that their housing needs do not matter. We are talking about a level entrance to a home for those who have ever had to push a pram or have broken their leg. I have been sick, fallen in the shower and have not been able to pull myself up because there were no handles. Every single one of us will get to a point where we need minimum accessibility standards. It is minimal. It is not even having to put a rail in. It is having to have a shower that is reinforced to the extent that one could put a rail in if they needed to, rather than paying the massive expense of having to strip out the shower if a rail is needed. It is not hard; it does not go too far.

The construction industry is happily doing this everywhere else in Australia. It is much cheaper for construction companies building in the ACT, Victoria or Queensland to buy the things needed in bulk and then also build in the same way in New South Wales. This decision from the New South Wales Government is completely, utterly unfathomable. It is nothing but ableism; I am calling it out for what it is. The Government cannot ignore the one in four people with mobility needs in the State. It is a disgrace.


The ASSISTANT PRESIDENT (The Hon. Peter Primrose): The question is that the motion be agreed to.

Motion negatived.


Read the full debate in Hansard here.

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