Notice of refusal of temporary exemption
under the DDA: Regional Airlines Association of Australia
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission gives notice of a decision
made on 22 August 2000 under section 57 of the Disability Discrimination
Act 1992 ("DDA") concerning accessibility of small aircraft.
exemption application was submitted on behalf of the Regional Airlines
Association of Australia.
of the Commission
Commission decided to refuse the exemption.
making this decision the Commission accepted findings and reasons contained
in a recommendation and statement of reasons prepared by the Deputy Disability
to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, application may
be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of the decision
to which this notice relates by or on behalf of any person or persons
whose interests are affected by the decision.
on behalf of the Commission
for decision on exemption application: Regional Airlines Association of
March 1999 HREOC received an application by the Regional Airlines Association
of Australia (RAAA), on behalf of its member airlines, for an exemption
for a period of five years from sections 23 and 24 of the Disability Discrimination
Act, so far as they concern carriage of persons using wheelchairs or other
mobility aids, where the constraints of aircraft or boarding systems prevent
boarding and carriage consistent with safety requirements for staff or
more time has passed since this application was lodged than is generally
aimed for or achieved by HREOC's disability discrimination policy section
in presenting exemption matters for decision by the Commission. The unusual
delay in this case is referable to the particular history of this matter.
its application, the applicant association noted its expectation
Commission's consideration of the application in conjunction with consumers
and other interested parties will assist in identifying in more detail
reasonable steps to be undertaken to deal with relevant constraints,
those constraints which remain unavoidable during the life of the exemption
and perhaps beyond, and other appropriate conditions and limits of an
is entirely appropriate and reasonable for an applicant for exemption
to seek to use HREOC's processes to identify appropriate conditions on
an exemption so as to achieve progress towards the objects of DDA. The
Melbourne Trams matter, in which in response to comments made during HREOC's
processes the Victorian Government modified its Action Plan and brought
forward by a number of years its commitment to make trams accessible,
provides a positive example in this respect. However, on this occasion
HREOC's process cannot be said to have succeeded in identifying
conditions on which it would be appropriate for this exemption to be granted.
accordance with HREOC's policy and practice on DDA exemption applications,
a notice of inquiry was issued and submissions sought. The notice of inquiry
sought comment on issues as follows:
- specific features
of aircraft and/or boarding systems preventing boarding and/or carriage
of persons using wheelchairs or other mobility aids
- features of aircraft
and/or boarding systems which, while not absolutely preventing boarding
or carriage, prevent persons using wheelchairs or other mobility aids
boarding or travelling with equal convenience, comfort, dignity or safety
to other passengers
- how far removal
of these barriers is technically possible within currently available
technology and design
- impact of relevant
- whether the DDA
should be regarded in any relevant circumstances as requiring substitution
of larger aircraft on a particular route or particular flights to overcome
access limitations of smaller aircraft
- costs involved in
relevant barrier removal and relationship of these costs to revenue
and viability of services, including any increase or decrease in revenue
reasonably to be expected from modifications (to aircraft, other facilities,
or staffing or other service delivery features) to achieve accessibility
- trials or studies
(already undertaken or proposed during the life of the exemption sought)
to examine means for eliminating or reducing barriers to equal access
to relevant aircraft services, including consultation processes involving
people with a disability
- measures undertaken
or proposed to achieve non-discriminatory access consistent with the
objects of the DDA to relevant aircraft services more generally.
The Association proposed in a subsequent letter to HREOC (29 July 1999)
that the exemption sought should apply when any two or more of the following
criteria are present:
to be accessed by a passenger lifting device
access to seat via modified wheelchairs due to aisle width
space prohibits the safe manual handling / manipulation of disabled
is fair to say that limited input addressing these issues specifically
submissions were received, from a range of organizations and individuals
in the disability community and from organizations in regional Australia.
These indicated a range of concerns and opposed granting of an exemption
in the terms applied for.
of submissions reflected views that, first, the exemption was concerned
with permitting reductions in existing levels of accessibility and, second,
that exemptions were on principle inimical to the objects of the DDA.
I do not believe that the first view reflects the RAAA's intention in
bringing this application, and reject the second view as simply wrong.
However, several submissions raised more substantial issues.
Australian Quadriplegic Association's submission stated:
we acknowledge that the design of some smaller planes may prevent wheelchair
access at the present time, we believe it should still be possible without
unreasonable cost to provide access on certain types of aircraft and
at certain airports. However, the application does not specify what
services would be affected if the exemption were granted. Nor does it
provide any suggestions for a way forward.
submission from People with Disabilities NSW states:
and implement world best practice technical means of providing access
to aircraft in a dignified manner.
all possible alterations to existing small aircraft to facilitate
ease of access.
out with people with disability and manufacturers design specifications
to ensure best possible access to small aircraft on order.
and provide training to staff to ensure their health and safety needs
are met whilst at the same time providing access.
do not question the right of RAAA to try and find ways to clarify and
codify its members' responsibilities in a systemic way, rather than
having to construct possible defences of unjustifiable hardship in individual
cases. We cannot, however, support such a strategy when it may result
in a wholesale reduction of the rights and benefits some of our members
It is our belief that the only possible justification for granting an
exemption is to give service providers a period of time within which
they would address discriminatory practices. This means that, short
of unjustifiable hardship, service providers should:
undertook some research of its own on relevant issues. However, resources
available for this purpose are limited. In my view (and taking into account
the comments made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in the Sex Discrimination
Act exemption decision Re:
Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd and The Human Rights and Equal
HREOC should also reluctant to seek to set conditions which are not based
on the realities of the industry concerned and which may not be achievable
issue may be particularly relevant where the application is made on behalf
of a number of organizations, whose ability or preparedeness to comply
with conditions not proposed by or negotiated with them may vary.
course, this should not be taken to mean that industry wide exemption
applications should be discouraged. If a conditional exemption can deliver
progress in achievement of the objects of the DDA, then the more broadly
this progress is delivered the better. There may indeed be instances where
an industry wide approach is the most feasible means of delivering the
results sought (for example if an element of an exemption application
were the members of an industry agreeing to submit disputes on disability
discrimination issues to arbitration by an independent expert body).
my view it is desirable that a decision in this matter be made without
further delay. Decisions which are as prompt as possible are desirable
so that if applicants or other parties affected disagree with HREOC's
view they may seek to have the decision reviewed by the AAT, rather than
possibly being compelled to approach the Federal Court to seek a remedy
in the nature of an order of mandamus to require a decision to be made.
that this exemption application be declined.
that the RAAA or each or any of its members separately is free to make
a revised application. Indeed, Kendell Airlines has done so and I have
recommended to HREOC that Kendell's application should be granted on certain
conditions which have been proposed by or agreed to by Kendell.
Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner
17 August 2000