Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The Victorian Parliament yesterday joined almost every other Australian state in decriminalising public drunkenness.
The move comes decades after it was first recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and will allow for public drunkenness to be treated as a health issue rather than a crime in Victoria.
The family of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, who in 2017 died in police custody after being arrested for public drunkenness, have called it an historic day that was “tinged with much heartache and sadness”.
In a statement released through the Human Rights Law Centre, the Day family praised the move but said the work isn’t finished.
“It has been a long road for us to get to this point and it is devastating to know that if these racist laws were abolished 30 years ago, our Mum and others would still be with us today,” the Day family said.
“Our lives will never be the same, but we move forward together to continue to seek justice for our mother.”
“While this reform is a step in the right direction, the Andrews Government must now back their words with action and work with Aboriginal communities to implement a culturally safe and best practice public health response ahead of their deadline.”
“This reform is already overdue and there can be no more delay. Aboriginal-led oversight of the implementation process will be crucial.”
The Bill moves to what the Andrews Government describes as a “culturally safe and appropriate model” that prioritises the health and safety of individuals who are intoxicated in public.
This includes outreach services, more training for first responders and the implementation of sobering up services.
Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the reforms will be followed by ongoing extensive consultation.
“Today we have delivered a reform that is long overdue — public drunkenness laws have caused too much pain for too many and we acknowledge everyone who has fought tirelessly for this change,” she said.
“We’ll continue to work closely with Aboriginal communities, health experts and other stakeholders, including police to establish a health model that focuses on support and safety, not punishment.”
Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, who represented the Day family in the coronial inquest into Ms Day’s death said the reform was testament to the family’s tireless advocacy.
“The Victorian Parliament have done the right thing enacting reform that will wipe public drunkenness laws from the statute books. If somebody is too drunk, they should be taken home or somewhere safe — they should not be locked up behind bars where they are at risk of dying in custody,” Hurley said.
“This is an opportunity for Victoria to enact a world-leading, best practice public health response and we look forward to the Andrews Government working with the Day family and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to implement this long overdue reform/”
In the wake of the legislation’s passing, Co-Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) Priscilla Atkins has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to meet with the families of Indigenous people who have died in custody.
“The voices of families whose loved ones have died in custody need to be heard. Governments must work with the families left behind and our Aboriginal organisations to stop our people dying in custody. This starts with implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission,” Atkins said.
“We urge the Prime Minister to answer the calls of the families to meet with them, and show a real commitment to working alongside them to implement the Royal Commission recommendations that have so far been ignored, and to make sure no other family ever has to experience their pain.”
By Sarah Smit