Transcript by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Universal Housing design – ABC Sydney 702 Breakfast Show with Adam Spencer

Program: ABC Sydney 702 Breakfast Show with Adam Spencer

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ADAM SPENCER: He’s on the line now. Mr Shorten, universal design, Cynthia Banham speaks strongly about your push towards in this in Australian homes.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, Cynthia is – obviously you’re lucky enough to know her. I’ve only ever known her since her injury and she’s very impressive, so we’re working well together to try and get people to think about the fact that we should build houses that we can live in no matter what our circumstances, and would build houses which in fact could be easy to sell one day because there would be more customers.

ADAM SPENCER: And Cynthia is mentioning that obviously to retro-fit a house where this wasn’t part of the design principle can be massively expensive, but having as a basic design a door being wider when the house is built in new housing, that doesn’t add significantly at all.

BILL SHORTEN: No, we’ve got an opportunity – I mean yes you are correct – we’ve got an opportunity to get people thinking when we build new houses – and we build 160,000 new units in Australia, and houses, every year – there’s some basic things that can be done – wider doors, having ideally a toilet on the entry on the ground floor level of the building or the house which you live in, having a level entry between where you get out of the car and go into the house. These things aren’t expensive at all in new houses.

ADAM SPENCER: When you discuss these sort of concepts with the people who design and build our houses are they coming on the journey with you Bill?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, what’s happened is that for commercial premises it’s taken longer than the Trojan War to design, get agreement on access to premises, which is a bit of shame. It’s no one’s fault at one level, but every year we rebuild two per cent of all commercial buildings in Australia, so in the last 10 years 20 per cent of Australia’s commercial buildings have been rebuilt. But that’s how long it’s taken us to get agreed access standards. They’re now in parliament. The new government’s certainly pushed a bit faster I think, than our predecessors, but I’ve been thinking all the time, why does it take 10 years to talk about something which fundamentally people agree on?

So we’ve just had a very good opportunity, supported by Therese Rein and Cynthia, to get a whole lot of the key decision makers in the same room, and we’ve said to them – and it isn’t resolved yet – but we’ve said, you’ve all got your other rights, if you want to disagree you can, but let’s try and see what we can agree on in this room.

And we, as I think Cynthia might have said in her article this morning, we’ve made progress. We’ve had four meetings. We’ve said, this is not going to be a long process. We’ll have one more meeting, we’ll see if we can get agreement on what sort of standards we think everyone can live with, and I think people sometimes leave our meetings with a sense of wow, we just agreed on more stuff here than we thought we would.

ADAM SPENCER: The countries listed in Cynthia’s article as leading the way are Japan, Britain, Canada and Norway, hopefully very soon people will be mentioning Australia on that list Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: I hope so. The Victorian Government has actually bitten the bullet. They have, they’re proposing new standards for houses – a gold, silver, bronze category where houses will, over time, be built towards a bronze, then a silver, then a gold standards of accessibility.

I think one of the issues – so it’s even happening here, and some of the bigger builders are already doing what we’re talking about. The issue I, which has become clear to me to establish is how do you explain universal design to people? I mean universal design as a name sounds like something out of Officeworks – like a computer program.


BILL SHORTEN: So we have been grappling with this, along with what it means, and we’re doing pretty well and it’s due to the leadership of all the groups, you know, from Master Builders to the housing industry to the architects, the Property Council, to the Human Rights Commission and Disability activists.

ADAM SPENCER: Well hopefully we’ll have some very good news soon in this space. Thank you very much for your work there Bill, and lovely to speak to you this morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Great Adam. Thank you.

ADAM SPENCER: Bill Shorten MP is the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Childcare Services. His efforts are spoken of very warmly by Cynthia Banham in this morning’s Herald article about universal design.

Herald article about universal design