Fighting to make a difference
My wife and I took our children for a family holiday last year. My wife and I have disabilities. We planned to catch a ferry to Phillip Island. We had to travel a long way to get to the ferry. We also had to wait a long time for the ferry to arrive. When it came we were not allowed to get on. The master of the boat did not think we would be able to get off the boat safely. I decided to make a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Posted by: Alan Bartlett, on 24/01/12
We weren't allowed on the ferry.
My wife and I took our children for a family holiday last year. My wife and I have disabilities. Our plans were to take our two children on the Inter Island Ferry. It operates between Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula and Cowes on Phillip Island. We planned to stay on Phillip Island and catch the bus home. I had researched for the trip. According to the ferries website, it runs reliably every day.
Our children were excited. They got up very early in the morning. They had their backpacks ready to go.
A long way
We travelled a long way on the train to Stony Point station to meet the ferry. We discovered that Stony Point is an isolated place with an infrequent train service. A sign at the pier recommended buying our ticket from the one and only kiosk. We purchased our tickets and waited an hour for the ferry to arrive.
My children were very excited when they saw the ferry. But when we attempted to board the ferry, the master of the vessel refused us access. This was obviously hugely disappointing for everyone. We felt we had been discriminated against because of our disabilities. The kids were upset and tearful. It meant the end of our holiday.
The ferry owner later replied to my email asking why we had been refused access. He said the height of the tide can affect the difficulty of getting off the boat.
Some landings at Cowes can be two feet above or below the vessel's deck, he wrote.
We are not allowed to use gangways.
The weather was also a consideration. The ferry owner wrote,
If injury occurs and the forecast has warned us of conditions in the bay, the master would be held responsible. As for the disparity between your group and any other potential passengers, I am advised that due to the weather, state of the tide, nature of their disabilities and not being medically trained, the master was of the opinion that he would be unable to land them safely at Cowes.
I was disappointed that the Inter Island Ferries website gave no warnings of potential problems. There was only a general warning that passengers could be refused access at any time.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recommended we lodge a disability discrimination complaint. I decided to follow this advice and lodged a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. My main aim was to help others avoid the disappointment and inconvenience of turning up to the ferry service to find they can't use it.
I discovered the Victorian Department of Transport was responsible for funding the ferry. I made the complaint to the department as well as Inter Island Ferries. The investigator and conciliator from the commission contacted both parties on my behalf.
The main outcome of my complaint is that the department has advised Inter Island Ferries to include a warning that some passengers may have difficulty boarding or disembarking the ferry. Passengers are encouraged to make enquiries beforehand. These warnings are to be included on their website and advertising. Hopefully this will help prevent other people from being left on the dock.
The department also sent me a detailed response. They found the explanations given by the ferry owner in response to my email were acceptable according to legislation. The department says discrimination can occur if it is reasonably necessary to protect the health and safety of any person. Unfortunately, modifications to improve accessibility would be very expensive. There have been discussions between the department, Parks Victoria and WorkSafe about the difficulties using the service.
My voice heard
I would certainly recommend making a claim with the commission. It helped me to formalise my complaint and get my voice heard. The commission acted immediately on my behalf.
After reading the response from the department, I felt any improvements to the ferry service were beyond the scope of my complaint. It is frustrating the service is not fully accessible. But major changes to infrastructure would be needed. In the short term, I hope I have made a difference by helping other people avoid inconvenience and disappointment.
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