In 2008 the Commission initiated a review of the laws governing the use of assistance animals by people with a disability.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission suggested the review, which was conducted in accordance with section 5(1)(b) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000 (Vic). The Act empowers the Commission to initiate inquiries into legal issues of general community concern, provided they are limited in size and scope.
A consultation paper identified inconsistencies and gaps in the regulation of assistance animals and in the laws protecting users of assistance animals. The Commission received 28 submissions and consulted widely. The report on assistance animals was tabled in Parliament on 29 January 2009.
The Commission recommended improving the legal protection for people with disabilities who rely on assistance animals. Amendments were suggested to the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) to strengthen the rights of users. The report also recommended establishing a simple regulatory scheme for the training, registration and identification of assistance animals.
At the time the Commission’s report was tabled, a review of Victoria’s equal opportunity law was under way. The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), enacted in response to that review, largely adopted the Commission’s recommendation to expand the definition of ‘assistance dog’ (although it did not adopt the Commission’s recommendation on the development of a regulatory scheme for training and accreditation).
The definition of discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act now clearly specifies that discrimination that occurs because a person uses an assistance dog is discrimination against the person because of a disability. This is in line with the Commission’s recommendations and federal law.
The Equal Opportunity Act was also amended to impose express obligations to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a person with a disability in certain areas. For example, whilst not specifically recommended by the Commission, sections 7 and 54 provide that a person must not refuse to provide accommodation to a person with a disability because he or she has an assistance dog.