Community sector rallies to abolish offences of public drunkenness
15 April 2019 at 4:34 pm
Marking the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, over 80 community groups are calling on the Victorian government to abolish the offence of public drunkenness, a law they say targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
An open letter was delivered to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday, written by the family of Tanya Day – a proud Yorta Yorta woman, who died in late 2017 of a brain haemorrhage, from a head injury sustained while in police custody.
The letter said Day would “still be here” if the Victorian government had implemented the key recommendation of abolishing the offence of public drunkenness.
“Mum was travelling on a VLine train from Echuca to Melbourne when she fell asleep. She was approached by a conductor who deemed her ‘unruly’ and called the police,” the letter said.
“She was then taken off the train and placed in a Castlemaine police cell for being drunk in a public place.”
It said that most Victorians had committed this offence – when coming home from the races, or the football – but not all are over-policed and thrown into prison the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are.
Victoria and Queensland are the only remaining states to have not abolished the offence, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) 28 years ago.
Change the Record, the Human Rights Law Council, GetUp, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), and the Australian Council of Social Services were among some of the signatories on the letter.
Roxanne Moore, Change the Record principal advisor, told Pro Bono News implementing the recommendations of the royal commission could have saved the life of Day and many others.
“Over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody so far, and 28 years later, Premier Andrews needs to abolish the offence of public drunkenness now before any more lives are lost,” Moore said.
Trevor Pearce, CEO of VACCHO, said as long public drunkenness remained an offence in Victoria, the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were at risk.
“Our people must be safe, especially culturally safe. When we are not, this is the worst outcome, people die,” Pearce said.
“Drunkenness is a public health issue, not a criminal one.”
Moore said the groups would now wait for a response from Andrews, and would continue to call for change.
“There needs to be alternatives put in place, because we know that this tough on crime response to this issue is not the right approach,” she said.
“There needs to be a holistic approach to this, which is Aboriginal led and provides the wrap around supports that are needed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”