Asia-Pacific, Built Environment, May 4 2021

Australia: A national reform to the construction code would require new houses and apartments to meet minimum accessibility standards, following a push from the ACT government.

Most of Australia’s building ministers agreed to the accessibility standards at a national meeting on Friday.

The standards would require new homes to be more accessible for people with disabilities and more adaptable if they needed future modifications.

The standards will be included in the public comment draft of the National Construction Code for next year and are based on design guidelines from Liveable Housing Australia.

The standards include: at least one step-free entrance into a property, doors and corridors that allow for unimpeded movement between spaces, an easy-access toilet on the ground level and reinforced walls in the bathroom to allow for safe installation of grabrails.

Ms Vassarotti said the reforms had come after decades of work from advocates and that progressive jurisdictions came together to achieve the changes.

“Modest but significant changes will mean housing built in the future will better meet needs,” she said.

“This is important not only for people with disabilities, mobility issues or who are ageing. This is reform for all of us.

“I am glad that the majority of my fellow building ministers agree with me that all new homes built in Australia should be built to minimum accessibility standards.”

For the past decade there have been voluntary guidelines, but Ms Vassarotti said these had failed.

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

Ms Vassarotti said industry would be supported through the reforms.

“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,” she said.

A commitment to create local standards is in the ACT parliamentary agreement between Labor and the Greens.

The ACT government put its work on local standards on hold while it sought the national standards.

ACT Council of Social Services head of policy Craig Wallace called the reform a “game-changer”.

“While the next steps are for the states and territories, this is a game-changer 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,” he said.

Originally Published in The Canberra Times