Victorian government to introduce legislation to abolish public drunkenness offence

Tanya Day's family have welcomed a report that supports the decriminalisation of public drunkenness.
Tanya Day's family have welcomed a report that supports the decriminalisation of public drunkenness.

The Victorian government will introduce legislation to decriminalise public intoxication.

The move follows an independent report into public drunkenness and will serve as a "lasting tribute" to the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day.

The expert reference group supports a health-based response to public drunkenness, rather than a criminal one, and recommends a 24-month implementation period to develop the new health model, including trial sites to inform the wider roll-out.

Other recommendations include taking intoxicated people to a safe place, providing more culturally safe services and prevention strategies, and improving the first response.

The expert reference group had been tasked with talking to Aboriginal communities, health services, alcohol and other drugs services, local government and licensees about the proposed law change.

The Victorian government says it will review all the recommendations of the expert reference group and introduce legislation before the end of the year.

Tanya Day, an Echuca resident, was taken into custody at Castlemaine for public drunkenness in December 2017, after she was found lying across the seats on V/Line train to Melbourne.

She died 17 days later from a head injury she suffered while locked up in the police cell.

Ms Day's family said over the weekend the release of the report was a welcome step forward, albeit one tinged with grief.

"As our mum's case shows, police cells are unsafe places and no person should ever be locked up just for being drunk in a public place," they said.

"Public drunkenness is a public health issue that needs a public health response."

However, the family expressed concern about any role police could play in the response in the future, saying police discretionary powers opened "the way for discriminatory policing, too often experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".

Ms Day's family appealed to Premier Daniel Andrews to revoke public drunkenness as an offence in the wake of her death, and Aboriginal Victorians have long campaigned to change the law.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended public drunkenness be decriminalised almost 30 years ago, and Indigenous people continued to be arrested for public drunkenness at a disproportionate rate.

The Police Association of Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said the organisation supported health reform, but was concerned the approach was "all press release and no policy".

Without the full implementation of health reform, Mr Gatt said, the government's approach risked the safety of the public, police and those intoxicated.

He said the government needed to be clear on a number of issues, including transport, how call-outs would operate, and how police officers should assess risk to intoxicated people.

The state government committed $16 million to the implementation of a health-based approach to public drunkenness, including funding for Aboriginal-controlled services, as part of the 2020-21 budget.

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