The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was enacted in 1992. In short, the DDA is an Australian federal law that makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of disability. But the law itself doesn't contain much detail on what discrimination is when it comes to such things as public transport, education, employment and access to buildings. That's what the Standards are for.
In 2002, the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT or Tranpsort Standards) came into being. This is a fairly big document that contains lots of details about what accessible public transport should be.
Three years later, in 2005, the Australasian Railways Association (ARA), on behalf of its members, applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) for a range of temporary exemptions from the DSAPT. In 2007, the AHRC granted many of those exemptions (some with conditions attached) and declined to grant others.
Part 33A of the DSAPT allows for temporary exemptions. The reasoning is that where older conveyances and infrastructure are in use, it may take some time for these to be updated to comply with the accessibility standards.
Temporary exemptions are just that - temporary. They can be granted for periods up to a maximum of 5 years. Most of the temporary exemptions granted to the ARA were for 3 years.
The exemptions were extended in September 2010, and again in February 2012 with an expiry date of 31 December 2013.
Prior to 31 December 2013, the ARA made a new application to the AHRC for temporary exemptions from the DSAPT. This application asks for more exemptions and a longer exemption period. The ARA is also asking for it to be allowed to adopt its own Code of Practice instead of being bound by the DSAPT.
The AHRC responded by granting a 6 month extension of the standing exemptions (to 30 June 2014) to give it time to consider the ARA's apparently quite complex application. By 30 June 2014, no decision had been made and the standing exemptions were extended a further 6 months (to 31 December 2014).
Still, the AHRC was not satisfied with ARA's application. Apparently the complexity of the application has been such that the AHRC has required more and more information from the ARA, while at the same time negotiating for the application to be simplified. While all this has been going on, the AHRC has granted to the ARA another extension to the standing exemptions for a further 9 months (to 30 September 2015).
At this date of writing (25 January 2015), the ARA's new "primary application" is not yet available to the public, so we can only imagine what it contains. It is likely to be complex and we will need to work through it methodically. If the primary application does indeed ask for the ARA and its members to be bound by their own Code of Practice, rather than the DSAPT, then we will need to consider very carefully about whether we think this is appropriate. We need to think about whether this would be good or bad for the rightsof people with disabilities who use public transport.
During this current 9 month extension, the AHRC intends to hold public consultations and will call for submissions. As soon as information comes to hand, this web page will be updated accordingly.