Disability advocates believe that developers behind one of Tasmania’s most iconic projects have now spent more money fighting against installing an accessible elevator than it originally cost them to install.
- Proponents of disability say development discriminates against people with mobility problems
- Parliament Square has two accessible entrances, but advocates of disabilities might want to add an elevator to a third
- The case is expected to be heard by the anti-discrimination court in 2021
The developers of the $ 220 million redevelopment of Parliament Square are embroiled in a four-year battle with disability attorney David Cawthorn over allegations that the development discriminates against people with mobility problems.
Parliament Square, located just behind Tasmania’s historic parliament building, was once touted as Hobart’s Federation Square.
The $ 150 million Salamanca building was completed in the final quarter of 2017 while the accompanying Tasman Hotel is still under construction.
According to Cawthorn, the building discriminates against people based on age and mobility because they have no access to the entrance to the centerpiece.
He wants an elevator installed so that people with mobility issues don’t have to travel 35 meters up a hill to get in.
However, when he filed his lawsuit with the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in December 2016, he hadn’t expected to look into it four years later.
The refurbishment of Parliament Square in Hobart costs more than $ 220 million. (ABC News: Luke Bowden)
There are two accessible entrances on either side of Parliament Square, which means it complies with building codes, but Mr Cawthorn said for those coming from Salamanca it was too much to expect to walk up a hill to an accessible entrance.
He said it was disappointing that he still had to fight for equal access these days.
“It makes you angry,” he said.
“People with disabilities are still fighting the same things as they were 20 years ago.
“It’s a bit of a fight between David and Goliath. Undoubtedly [the developers] would have spent more money [in court] than it would have cost them to put in an elevator. ”
The costs should not exceed equality rights.
Former Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks said an elevator should be affordable for those costs to develop.
“That cost of putting an elevator in place at the time [of development] In my view, this would never be an unjustified harshness, “she said.
“Even if I upgraded it, I didn’t think it would. It’s a tens of millions of dollars development and upgrading the elevator won’t be in this league.”
In fact, Ms. Banks said she doesn’t believe developers should be allowed to use “undue harshness” or something too expensive to break free from providing development.
Former Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks believes that new buildings should have equal access. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
“”[That] The cost of correctness can outweigh equality rights when you live your life with a disability and it affects every aspect of your wellbeing, “she said.
“Then you get new buildings, you put in brand new buildings and you still have to fight. It’s incredibly disappointing that people with disabilities are still affected.”
She said it was “a little confusing” that the case had not been resolved.
“It’s kind of depressing that in 2020, some 28 years after the Disability Discrimination Act was passed, we are still arguing about making new facilities fully accessible and with the same amount of effort and dignity we all expect accessible, “she said.
“Small price for equal access”
Mr Cawthorn and his team just had a victory in the Supreme Court, with the full decision that the case should go to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal (ADT).
His complaint was originally scheduled for a week-long hearing in May 2019, but Citta Hobart and Parliament Square Hobart Landowner’s attorneys successfully argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the matter as it was federal law.
On Wednesday, Mr. Cawthorn’s legal team was able to overturn that judgment and his case could be heard by the ADT at some point next year.
But Mr. Cawthorn’s attorney, Ben Bartl, hopes to go another way.
“We are confident that instead of referring the matter back to the tribunal, the developer can accept the need for equal access to Parliament Square and agree to get on the elevator without us going to the anti-discrimination tribunal have to return. ” he said.
He said any elevator installed now would need to be upgraded, which would cost more.
“Given the time, effort, and most importantly, the money that went into this case, we hope the developer will accept the need to install an elevator,” he said.
“We believe that more money has been spent on this case than it would have cost to install an elevator.
“The total development of Parliament Square is over $ 170 million, and this elevator would only have cost around $ 300,000. It’s a small price to pay for equal access to Parliament Square.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Parliament Square said he “respects the decision of the Supreme Court” and will “fully attend the next anti-discrimination court hearing on the matter”.
He wouldn’t comment on whether the development spent more money on the complaint than it would cost to install an elevator.