New Health-Based Response To Public Drunkenness

The Andrews Labor Government will decriminalise public drunkenness and replace it with a health-based response, in order to provide vulnerable Victorians with appropriate help and support.

Abolishing the offence of public drunkenness was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, almost 30 years ago, and has been reiterated by numerous inquiries since. It has also been advocated for in submissions to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

The Attorney-General will write to Coroner Caitlin English, in relation to the inquest into the death of Tanya Day, to advise that the Government commits in principle to decriminalising public drunkenness. Coroner English has previously indicated that she proposes to recommend the outdated law be abolished in her final report.

Tanya Day was a much-loved mother and grandmother, and a proud Yorta Yorta woman. She died after being removed from a train and taken into custody for being drunk in public.

The Labor Government will establish an Expert Reference Group to provide advice about the decriminalisation and the development of an alternative, health-based response.

The Group will consist of:

  • Helen Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
  • Tony Nicholson, former Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence
  • Jack Blayney, former Assistant Commissioner and Chief Information Officer of Victoria Police
  • Nerita Waight, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

The Expert Reference Group will provide advice in consultation with the Aboriginal community, health services, alcohol and other drugs experts, local government and operators of licensed premises.

The new health-based model will promote therapeutic and culturally safe pathways to assist alcohol-affected people in public places, who may be facing other challenges including homelessness, mental illness, family violence, and substance dependency.

A health-based approach will be particularly significant for the Aboriginal community, who are disproportionately affected by the current laws.

The group and government will work closely with Victoria Police to make sure police continue to have sufficient powers to maintain community safety and help intoxicated people at risk of harm.

The government will work closely with Victoria Police, Aboriginal stakeholders, health services, and communities to establish an alternative model to respond to public intoxication and associated health issues.

The reform will bring Victoria in line with almost all other states and territories across Australia.

The Government expects to report back to Coroner English on the progress of this reform by the end of the year.

Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Jill Hennessy

“Public drunkenness requires a public health response, not a criminal justice one, and now is the right time to take this important reform forward.”

“The Andrews Labor Government acknowledges the disproportionate impact the current laws have had on Aboriginal people and pay tribute to the community members who have advocated for this change.”

Quote attributable to Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos

“This is reform that will save lives. We’ll be working carefully with the experts, including health services, Aboriginal groups and Victoria Police on how we can better protect vulnerable people who need support, not punishment.”

Quote attributable to Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gavin Jennings

“Since Tanya Day’s death in 2017, her family has been committed to law reform and better support services. The courage and determination they have shown to prevent other families from experiencing their pain has been remarkable and truly inspiring.”