A guide dog, hearing dog or assistance dog is specially trained to perform specific physical tasks and behaviours to assist a person with a disability and reduce their need for support to promote independence for the person to participate in the community.
The Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 (the Act) came into effect on 1 July 2009. The Act ensures that every person who relies on a certified guide, hearing or assistance dog has the same access rights as others to public places and public passenger vehicles.
Dogs must be certified and be able to pass a Public Access Test to ensure they are safe and effective in a public place, public passenger vehicle, or place of accommodation, and are able to be controlled by the handler/s in all situations.
Certified dogs can be almost any breed and will be easily recognised by the badge on their coat or harness.
Handlers accompanied by a certified dog, as well as trainers, are required to carry a handler’s identity card.
A guide, hearing or assistance dog is not a pet or a 'companion' dog. Most people are familiar with the guide dogs used by people with a vision impairment. However, there are many other dogs that assist people with a disability in their day-to-day activities, including dogs that:
Under the Act, handler(s) and their certified dog have access rights to public places (such as restaurants and shops), public passenger vehicles (such as trains or taxis used to transport members of the public), and places of accommodation (such as hotels and campgrounds). The definition of accommodation under the Act is consistent with the definition in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and includes:
In addition to the Act, it is unlawful under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) to discriminate by refusing entry or access to a public place because a person relies on a guide, hearing or assistance dog.
A person with a disability who relies on a certified guide, hearing or assistance dog must have the same access rights as other members of the public subject to some exceptions contained in the Act. Further, they must not be segregated from other patrons or separated from their dog. The Act prescribes some exceptions relating to procedural areas of a health service facility, an ambulance, a place or vehicle where food is ordinarily prepared, or where the presence of the dog would present a risk to the health or welfare of people ordinarily at the place or on the vehicle. In such circumstances it might be reasonable to refuse access to a handler and their dog.
Persons in control of a public place, public passenger vehicle or place of accommodation can be fined up to 100 penalty units for refusing entry, refusing to provide service, or imposing a term that would separate the person with disability from their certified dog.
During 2015 a review of the Act was completed by a stakeholder review panel. The panel concluded the Act was working well and proposed a modest number of legislative recommendations to improve the Act.
In late October 2015, the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Amendment Act 2015 was debated and passed in Parliament.
The amendments focus on two main objectives:
An important amendment has been made to the Act to recognise the access rights of alternative handlers (an adult who supports the person with disability to physically control their guide, hearing or assistance dog). The alternative handler will be issued with an alternative handler identity card after they have passed the public access test with the primary handler and their guide, hearing or assistance dog.
Other amendments will reduce red tape by allowing approved trainers or training institutions to issue handler’s identity cards (and not the department).
Also, people with disability will only have to provide proof of their disability the first time they apply for a handler’s identity card (instead of every time they renew the card).
A legislative barrier will be removed to allow training institutions to certify a guide, hearing or assistance dog if the person with disability is an employee trainer, director or shareholder of the institution.
Flexibility will also be given to the Chief Executive of the department to call upon relevant experts to inform the approval and standards setting process.
Authorised officers under the Act will have a power to require information from third parties and to gain entry to premises by way of warrant in order to ensure the effective monitoring of compliance with, and enforcement of, the Act.
These amendments commenced on 27 April 2016.