David Cawthorn has struggled for years to get easy access to Hobart’s $ 200 million redevelopment of Parliament Square, which has bars, restaurants, and cafes – and the latest twist on the case “amazed” me, he says.
- The developer wants David Cawthorn’s case to be heard in the High Court, not under Tasmanian jurisdiction
- The government has sided with the developer, saying it will “ask for clarification … on the correct interpretation of Tasmania’s laws”.
- One disability attorney says that if the high court ruled the state did not have jurisdiction, it would “cause a whole lot of grief”.
The development – in the busy Salamanca area of Hobart – has two handicap access options, but Cawthorn says both are on a steep hill and practically do their job of providing easy access.
Mr. Cawthorn has fought against contractor Citta Property Group to build a third handicapped access – next to the main staircase.
He says the developer has ignored the Tasmania Supreme Court finding that the Anti-Discrimination Court is hearing the case and wants to challenge it in the High Court.
Last week, Attorney General Elise Archer threw her support behind the developer.
“I was amazed why they were supporting the developer,” said Cawthorn.
“If they win, it means that all of the state’s disability discrimination law is basically being weakened.”
Attorney General Elise Archer Says “Sometimes These Difficult Choices Have To Be Made” (ABC News: Luke Bowden)
Disability attorney Ben Bartl said Tasmania had some of the strictest anti-discrimination laws in the state.
He feared that the developer who argued the state anti-discrimination court did not have “jurisdiction to hear the case” and would instead take him to the High Court to weaken these Tasmanian laws.
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“In short, the developer argues that Commonwealth disability standards for access to premises do not have to match increased government access to premises,” he said.
“The state’s anti-discrimination law provides that the contractor must not discriminate when accessing public spaces, while Commonwealth access to premises only applies to buildings.”
But Mr Bartl said how this problem might play out could have wider implications and “create a barrier to access to justice” for people with disabilities.
“For people who don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to discuss these cases in federal court, it means they just won’t file the complaint,” he said.
Kristen Desmond says that there will be far-reaching consequences if it is decided that Tasmanian law does not apply. (ABC News: Craig Heerey)
Disability attorney Kristen Desmond said she did not want Tasmanian laws to be “watered down”.
“If the high court comes out and says if it’s federal legislation, the state doesn’t have jurisdiction, it would cause a lot of grief,” she said.
Mr Bartl said it was worrying that the state government had thrown its support behind trying to “weaken” Tasmanian laws.
“The attorney general has made it very clear that she will support the developer’s argument that this should be the Commonwealth Disability Standards, not the stricter state anti-discrimination laws,” he said.
“The state government may be concerned that this will set a precedent that will fuel development.
“If the developers have to comply with the state anti-discrimination law, they can invest elsewhere.”
“I took no pleasure in intervening”: Archer
In a statement, Ms. Archer said she had intervened to “ask the courts to clarify the correct interpretation of Tasmanian law.”
“While I did not enjoy acting as the state’s first legal representative at Citta Hobart Pty Ltd & Anor v Cawthorn High Court of Australia, sometimes these difficult decisions have to be made,” she said.
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“Our government is committed to working with people with disabilities, their families, carers, disability providers and the wider community to build a more equitable, inclusive and accessible state for all Tasmanians.”
Stephen McMillan, executive director of Citta, said Parliament Square was not built to discriminate against people with disabilities.
“Of the three access points to Parliament Square, only one is being criticized in the anti-discrimination complaint,” he said.
“The other two access points offer special access for the disabled.”
Mr McMillan said Citta took legal advice in deciding to appeal to the high court.
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