All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Landmark Federal Court Case Places Coach Operators in Australia On Notice For People with Mobility Disabilities



A recent Federal Court action has placed the Australian bus and coach operators on notice that long or short haul routes must have access for people with mobility disability. The action by Julia Haraksin against Murrays Australia Ltd played out over its three-year battle in the court system. Her perseverance is to be noted and congratulated. However, the case once again highlights the weakness of the system that places the onus of proof of disability discrimination on individuals with disability. Having a case heard in the Federal Court is a significant personal financial risk to the individual as the Federal Court is a "cost jurisdiction" where even if you win you may still have some costs awarded against you. While this does not occur very often, and that there are opportunities to have cost limits placed on what an individual may risk, this system is unnecessarily biased towards organisations with the financial resources to be able to ignore the mediation processes through the complaint case mechanisms set up under the Disability Discrimination Act and force people to either risk their personal assets or walk away from many situations that are blatantly direct discrimination under the law. Of course, that is not even take into account the emotional energy and sacrifice that individuals make in taking a Federal Court action. What makes this case more frustrating is that the right to access public transport and generally was tested in three separate court actions in three states of Australia in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games (Darcy, 2003). Why did this Federal court action need to go ahead? Figure 1 shows the author boarding an accessible coach in Victoria in 1998, hardly revolutionary for some bus and coach companies.

Figure 1: Simon Darcy preparing to board an accessible coach in Melbourne, Victoria Australia in 1998


While the organisation that assisted Julia, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre are to be congratulated for their many efforts and success, it is time that we have a vision for the system to either place the onus on organisations to prove that they are not discriminating against people with disability or have a sufficiently funded government statutory authority or non-profit sector to take public interest cases on behalf of people with disability. As Darcy & Taylor (2009) highlight in their paper at on a human rights analysis of the leisure, sport, recreation, the arts and tourism sectors described under the UN Convention On the Rights of Person's With Disabilities as "cultural life" under Article 30, there are the more examples of serial complaint cases being undertaken by individuals with disabilities involving the same circumstances and sectors year in year out. One such area is hotel accommodation that has proved problematic with possibly hundreds of complaint cases being launched without any systematic change by the hotel and accommodation sector. Yet, the hotel accommodation sector had been lobbying at the federal level to have the proportion/number of accessible rooms reduced in new developments. Darcy (2010; 2011) outlines the significant issues that people with disability face trying to source and make an informed decision about the hotel accommodation for their needs. Will this be the next Federal court case?

For further information on the Haraksin v Murray Australia Ltd please see http://www.piac.asn.au/news/2013/03/are-bus-companies-meeting-disability-standards 

References
  1. Darcy, S. (2003). The politics of disability and access: The Sydney 2000 Games experience. Disability & Society, 18(6), 737-757.
  2. Darcy, S., & Taylor, T. (2009). Disability citizenship: An Australian human rights analysis of the cultural industries. Leisure Studies, 28(4), 419-441.
  3. Darcy, S. (2010). Inherent complexity: Disability, accessible tourism and accommodation information preferences. Tourism Management, 31(6), 816-826.
  4. Darcy, S. (2011). Developing sustainable approaches to accessible accommodation information provision: A foundation for strategic knowledge management. Tourism Recreation Research, 36(2), 141-157.
A media release about the case http://ymlp.com/zx0FiH 

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