Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Launch of Livable Design

Location: Ropes Crossing, Sydney

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we meet. I think it’s also important to acknowledge all those who are here today. Graeme Innes is a Human Rights Commissioner who does so much in the field of disabilities. Ed Husic is the candidate for Chifley at the upcoming federal election. And has a very strong interest in matters to do with disability and housing.

I’d like to also acknowledge all the members of the liveable housing dialogue who are here today.

There’s a whole lot of you. And you’ll hear from some of them in a moment, which is great. I should also acknowledge Therese Rein who was supportive in terms of providing Kirribilli with the three meetings of the six we had which allowed us to perhaps interest some of these people to come along to the event.

But I know that once there, we got on with the serious business of Livable Design. I’d also like to acknowledge BMF and Auspoll. BMF are a premier marketing agency and advertising agency, and they’ve done a lot of the work for us free. So I think that reflects very well on them and all of us.

What will happen is I will say some words. And I think we’re inviting Peter Verwer to come up. He of course runs the Property Council of Australia. And then we’ll be hearing from Cynthia Banham, who had the unenviable task of drafting a lot of the ideas and she’ll provide her own particular personal  insights as well.

Then I’ll just wrap matters up.

Winston Churchill – very handy for quotes I have to say – did once say that we design buildings, but it is true that once they are built, it is buildings that design us.

In this Churchill was affirming what we know to be true. The way that a building is designed and constructed I think uniquely influences the ways in which we choose to – or in fact are able – to use them.

When we build a building that a person cannot enter, we send a message about the worth of that person.

We wouldn’t build buildings which say women not allowed. We wouldn’t build buildings that say people of a particular ethnic origin not allowed.

But every day in Australia, we build buildings which say that people with disability and carers – not welcome.

And this dialogue I think is a really constructive step forward to dealing with that quite anomalous behaviour. We believe that we must design and build responsibly, making sure that we consider how the end result affects the entire community.

This is important for public buildings such as the Opera House.

But I think it is even more important in the design values for our most private domain, our home. Liveable housing design is as easy as it sounds. It is about designing and building homes that will meet the needs of all people, including people with disabilities. It means building houses that will make it easier and safer for people to move about and live comfortably.

Easier to live in. Easier to adapt. And eventually even easier to sell.

To age in place is a dream which most of us share. As we get older and perhaps frailer we like to be surrounded by our memories, our families, the objects and the community that we spend our lives in. And this is a privilege. To experience life and its ups and downs and discover that your home can be an enemy, a landscape of treacherous surfaces, slippery showers, and steps that can sometimes be like Everest is in fact a cruel and unforeseen punishment.

Likewise, as we know in our DNA, life doesn’t always turn out as we expect it. And our life is richer for these challenges. But to be injured in an accident and to find out too late that your home that you love is now an expensive obstacle is piling punishment upon punishment.

Almost one in five Australians, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, has an impairment. Of the four million people who self-report they have an impairment, 84 per cent are affected by a physical condition or limitation that restricts everyday activities such as moving about their own house, their families, or indeed their friend’s house.

I think you’ll be surprised to hear that over 300,000 children aged less than 14 are part of this 4 million. Of the children who record us having an impairment, 69 per cent have a physical restriction that affects their daily living. We understand that our health and well being changes over their lifetime. And the most commonly reported cause of physical limitations and impairment for people of all ages is an accident or injury.

Yet despite this issue we’ve had to work on these issues, we’ve had to work on these ideas that we see today, at quite a degree of intensity.

It makes serious economic sense to not only provide new houses that meet people’s current needs, but we should look to the future and ensure that we meet people’s needs as they age or acquire disabilities. At the moment, some of this is happening. But more can be done.

It’s interesting to analyse that over the next 20 years, easily within the scope of our lifetimes, households with residents aged over 65 are projected to double to 3.2 million households, indicating further demand for dwelling types better suited to the needs of people.

I would suggest that a lot of the houses that we’ve built in the past in Australia, beautiful as they are, are designed for footballers or people in their peak of their fitness, in their 20s and 30s.

People who never get older. Who never have a mobility illness. And never have a change in their life circumstances or ability.

It’s interesting, it’s appropriate that we insure against fire, we insure for loss of income. But we don’t adapt our homes as an insurance policy against what time and fate may have in store for us.

I believe that we need to rethink this, and recognise that it’s commercially unwise not to respond to this demand.

Livable housing design is vital to move forward.

Not only will the standards that we’re talking about today make life easier for people with disability in their day to day activities, but it will provide people with greater independence, better health outcomes, and increased opportunities.

It is pleasing to see so many industry representatives here. This dialogue was set up partly in response to what I perceive to be the frustration of negotiating change when it came to builders.

The access to premises standards, which is nearly there but not quite there yet has taken 10 years, longer than the Trojan War to develop. We would say part of that was due to a lack of interest. But nonetheless, many of the participants in the dialogue will attest that the traditional approach to debating standards of buildings in Australia has perhaps been more adversarial than collegiate.

That takes nothing away from the good will of any of the parties. But the standard operating practice is for people to assert their rights. And to be perhaps somewhat suspicious, not necessarily of the motivations of others, but the consequences of other points of view, and the implications it has.

What we have sought to do in this dialogue, what I sought to do in this dialogue, is change the way we debate housing standards in Australia.

Regulation is important, just as is market education, and not introducing costs into housing affordability. But what we’re able to do is, through the involvement of the Property Council, the Master Builders, the Australian Institute of Architects, the Housing Industry Association, the Australian Local Government Association, through the Senior – through COTA, at the Council of the Ageing, through the involvement of the Victorian Government, and the Building Commission of Victoria, through federal departments of Industry and Innovation, and my own Department of Families and Community Affairs, through the involvement of Graeme Innes the Human Rights Commissioner, through the involvement of Rhonda Galbally from the National Council of Disability, through the involvement of Therese Rein and Cynthia Banham, who I mentioned earlier.

What we were able to do is bring all of the key people to the same room. And, okay, and this was both Stockland, who we acknowledge as helping provide facilities, and also Kirribilli. We were able also to get Lend Lease and Grocon, and Stockland, as key players, in terms of a lot of the issues that are happening.

We got a range of people, from a range of backgrounds, all of whom are first-class in their leadership capacity, and their knowledge of what needs to be done. And we were able to bring them into the same room, and we said, let’s park the standard debates, the old-fashioned debates – important debates, but perhaps the less-productive debates – at one side.

And instead, we’re saying, what do we think the housing of the future, in the residential market, should look like? And this is not, as some of the bloggers would say, proposing the nanny state, far from it.

It’s a recognition that Australians love their homes, and they want to be able to sell their homes again, re-sell their homes after they’ve lived in them for a period of time. It’s a recognition that, as I said, we want to grow older in the houses where we live.

But it’s also recognition that – why not look at introducing some new standards to evaluating houses? And through the work of BMF and Auspoll, plenty of guidance from people such as the Building Codes Board of Australia, we’ve been able to come up with a new three-tier standard, a silver, gold and platinum standard.

We’ve been able to come up with some milestones and a road map to 2020. A real road map, one with definitive outcomes, which says that by 2020 we’ll be able to establish that all new houses built in Australia will have liveable design values.

There’s a lot of work which has to be done between now and 2020. What the dialogue has done is they’ve suspended, perhaps, part of their scepticism about the motivations of all the others, and said, alright, where do we want to be?

Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll said, look, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. The dialogue has said, we don’t want to go that way. The dialogue has said, let’s work out where we go, let’s work out what’s realistic.

For some of the people from the disability rights point of view, they’ve had to perhaps park their scepticism that a voluntary approach will deliver very little. And they’ve said, alright, we’ll try this. Part of the insurance for that is to create – and I’m pleased to say, today, that the Federal Government will contribute a million dollars towards the creation of a not-for-profit body involving all the members of the dialogue in an ongoing basis.

We’re optimistic, we don’t have confirmed, that some of the people from the property and building industry will come along with resources to match that. But this body will monitor progress.

The guidelines you see spell out what we consider to be a silver-class building, a gold-class building, and a platinum-class building. We’ve spelled out how – what we want, and when we want to do it, and how we get there, and importantly how we measure it.

Just as the people, perhaps, from the more traditional rights perspective have suspended some of their traditional approach, and said, alright, we’ll try a voluntary approach, which sees people engaged, which sees clear measurement of the process, what we’ve also had is great leadership from the property groups. If I could loosely use that umbrella term.

What we’ve seen from them is saying, okay, we accept that there is a market. We accept that in many cases the housing industry is already building buildings to these standards. They, of course, have said, we’d like to see governments do more, and commit that their housing dollar gets spent promoting these standards.

But they’ve also been willing to say, alright, we’ve recognised it makes sense to build into a house some of these standards, rather than retrofitting the house. And we’re all aware, both personally, and from friends, and from more generally in the community, that when these – when life has its ups and downs, and as it has its natural life cycle, it’s much cheaper to have reinforced bathroom walls to fit the grab rails onto, when you need the grab rails, rather than trying to renovate the house at the point of adding grab rails.

But it makes more sense – I mean Moses did not come down from the mountain and say, the doors in Australia shall be 700 millimetres wide, and no wider. There has never been a rule which says that a toilet shouldn’t be on the ground floor.

There’s never been a view which said that it is a breach of some sort of design commandment that you couldn’t have a level entryway between a car point and a house. When you look at the standards which are here, the voluntary standards which are here, I think what will strike you is two propositions.

One is that the cost of these is negligible, and the other thing even more important than that is that it makes sense. And it sometimes takes outsiders to look at the same situation that we’ve been looking at – my wife calls it a male blindness, but when I can’t see things in front of me – but what these outsiders said to us, from the marketing worlds, they’ve said, but this of course, shouldn’t it make your house easier to sell? If there’s more people able to buy your house. And of course it does.

And as anyone knows who’s tried to sell a house there’s plenty of people with – who are interested in buying accommodation, but if there’s too many steps, if it’s not suitable to their point in life, they just can’t buy your house.

So I think today what we’re seeing is an outburst of commonsense. We’re seeing an outbreak of recognition that liveable design is not an alien, socialist concept of the nanny state, but rather it recognises that consumers would like to have the broadest possible choice of housing options. They always operate better with more information. That people do like to try and live in their own homes as they age, and we should build houses which suit the life cycle of people, rather than a particular point in their lives.

But none of this would have been possible without the cooperation of people who’ve put down their traditional manner of operating, and said, alright, what’s every one else’s point of view?

So this dialogue is going to be an ongoing thing, which the Federal Government is very keen to support. We see the living design guidelines, livable design guidelines, as being something which is an additional benefit to the sustainability of housing. We see this as a benefit to people into the future.

Now what I’d like to do is to call upon Peter Verwer from the Property Council. He and Amelia Starr, who’ve worked on universal design for the New South Wales Disability Council, along with Kristin Tomkins from the Housing Industry Association, Julia Thomson from my own office, and Cynthia Banham, did a lot of the writing of this, and the negotiation, and a lot of the hard work. I might ask Peter to come up, and then after that Cynthia. Well done everyone.