This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the August 2008 issue of the Law Institute Journal.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission is calling for submissions to a consultation paper on the law as it relates to people with a disability who rely on assistance animals.
Submissions will inform the Commission’s final report and recommendations which will go to the Attorney-General by 30 September 2008.
The project began when the Commission received a request from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to examine the law in Victoria as it relates to people with a disability who rely on assistance animals.
This falls within the function of the Commission is to examine any matter that raises relatively minor legal issues that are of general community concern. The Commission refers to these types of inquiries as ‘community law reform projects’.
Past projects include a report on the failure to appear in response to bail, which was suggested by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and a report on the regulation of residential tenancy database suggested by the Tenants Union of Victoria.
The VEOHRC is concerned that Victorian law does not adequately protect the rights of such people and there may be cases where the lack of clarity and certainty in the law has led to discrimination.
In Victoria, there is no single law that deals comprehensively with assistance animals. There are four different Victorian Acts and 13 regulations containing provisions that apply to assistance animal partnerships.
In addition, there are Commonwealth laws that operate alongside Victorian laws and establish concurrent rights for all people with a disability using assistance animals, regardless of the type of disability or assistance animal.
It is likely that simpler, clearer laws will promote community understanding of the fact that people with a disability who have a trained assistance animal are entitled to be accompanied by the animal throughout their daily lives.
This consultation paper examines whether the law can be clarified and improved so that it better protects people’s rights.
The paper looks at the current legal and regulatory framework in Victoria and other Australian jurisdictions, as well as industry practice by those organisations which provide training and other services for assistance animals.
We provide a series of draft proposals that explain how we think some relatively minor changes to the law might improve the situation. We suggest changes to both equal opportunity legislation and the laws regulating animals.
In devising draft proposals the Commission has four main aims:
• to clarify and rationalise the legal right of a person with a disability to use a trained assistance animal throughout his or her daily life;
• to give greater operational effect to this legal right than currently exists by establishing the framework for an administrative system which would permit a person with a disability to easily establish that he/she was accompanied by a trained assistance animal;
• to promote community understanding of the fact that people with a disability who have a trained assistance animal are entitled to be accompanied by the animal throughout their daily lives; and
• to provide certainty for business and the community in relation to health, safety and hygiene issues associated with the use of assistance animals.
In addition to receiving submissions, the Commission will meet businesses, employers, service providers, transport operators, assistance animal training organisations, disability groups, local government, state government departments and statutory agencies to obtain feedback on our draft proposals.
The report is available online at www.lawreform.vic.gov.au and requests can be made for a spoken word copy on CD or in Braille.