Tis the winter of our discontent, I think.
This morning, just a few weeks after the Ticketek saga, I filed another disability discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission, this time against the NSW Government Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, the Chief Executive of Roads and Maritime Services, the Chief Executive Officer Property NSW (previously the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority) and the Mayor, North Sydney Council.
Why, you may wonder. Well, I believe Billie has been directly discriminated against because of her disability pursuant to s 5 (1) and (2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and indirectly discriminated against as per s 6 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). As a wheelchair user, and with steps on the northern end being the only way to access the pedestrian walkway over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, she is unfairly denied access (or required to climb or crawl up the stairs, a requirement she cannot comply with).
Hang on, I hear you say, wasn’t there a lift coming? Yeah, that’s what we thought too.
This is what happened.
In March 2016, Billie and I tried to access the pedestrian walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the northern end, near Kirribilli. The only access is via a set of stairs of about 60 steps.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of our city’s icons; it should really have been made accessible in readiness for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Paralympics. People in Sydney – those with disabilities, those with prams or elderly residents and visitors – have been waiting far too long to be able to access this. The NSW government knows this, and has been discussing and planning increased access for some years. Agencies involved are the NSW Office of the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Roads and Maritime Services, Property NSW (formerly the Sydney Foreshore Authority) and North Sydney Council.
I was in contact with the Physical Disability Council of NSW (PDCN), and I told them of my intention to submit a complaint of disability discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). However, some days later I was contacted by PDCN and informed that an announcement by the NSW government to install a lift was imminent so I held off.
On 24 July 2016, Roads Minister Duncan Gay and Minister John Ajaka stood at the bottom of the stairs in Kirribilli and announced the building of a lift. [http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/lifts-and-maybe-ramps-coming-to-the-sydney-harbour-bridge-20160724-gqcjdw.html]. Minister Ajaka said ‘Everyone, including people with disability should be able to enjoy everything NSW has to offer’. Local residents were informed about the project and geotechnical investigative work was undertaken (between 20 February 2017). [http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/projects/sydney-inner/sydney-harbour-bridge/access-projects/access-lifts.html]
However, exactly a year later, on 24 July 2017, we were notified by the Office of the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, that the Sydney Harbour Bridge project never had specific funding allocated and the project did not make it as a funded for the 2017-18 financial year. [http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-25/Sydney-harbour-bridge-lift-access-not-funded-by-government/8739250?pfmredir=sm]
People with disability and their families have waited more than 10 years for access. We have waited long enough.
Despite various commitments to creating an inclusive society expressed in Disability Inclusion Plans prepared by a variety of government levels and agencies, stairs are currently the only means of access to the pedestrian walkway over our iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This constitutes ongoing discrimination of people with disability and their associates.
For example, the Destination NSW Disability Inclusion plan 2016-2018 identified ‘making buildings and facilities physically accessible’ as one of the core targets to create liveable communities. In its foreword, the Hon. John Ajaka, Minister for Disability Services, is quoted as saying ‘inclusion is not a choice – it is a right’ and stated the plan ‘maps out a path to a fully inclusive society for all people in NSW. It also has the full support and ongoing commitment of the NSW Government.’ The plan specifically noted the need for actions to increase accessibility and inclusion within the community, including ‘increasing the accessibility of public spaces including bus stops, outdoor paths of travel and footpaths, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals.’
Of course, this issue does not just affect people with disability. The day Billie and I were at the bridge, there was a Korean family visiting. One of their party was an elderly lady who could not walk up the steps, so one of the men piggy backed her up the bridge. I was utterly ashamed of our city.
So a lift we need. A lift we were promised. A lift we shall get.
Because it’s our bridge too.
Photograph © John Slaytor, May 2016
Photograph (c) Heike Fabig, May 2016