Warning for readers this story contains the name of an Indigenous person who has passed away.
It is no longer a crime to be publicly drunk in Victoria starting today.
The change comes 30 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which called for the offence’s decriminalisation due to its disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
It has also been a key recommendation from several coronial inquests including the inquest into the 2017 death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day.
Speaking to the SBS, deputy state coroner Caitlin English, said the offence was causing inhumane treatment.
“There was a culture of complacency regarding intoxicated detainees and as a person deprived of her liberty I find that Ms Day was not treated with humanity.
The clear medical evidence is that with a blood alcohol reading of at least 3.3 per cent, Ms Day should have been in hospital.”
The state’s health minister Ingrid Stitt says police will be given the option to refer intoxicated individuals to outreach and rehab facilities.
“The police will have an additional option to get in touch with the outreach service, and they will be able to assist with outreach.
Or if that person is unable to be assisted to get home safely one of the sobering centres or places of safety might be an option for that individual.
But these are things that are going to be dealt with on a case by case basis.”
Indigenous outreach services across Melbourne will be operated by Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation.
Chief executive De-Joel Upkett has told the Guardian, the services will help people sober up, and make sure they get home safely.
“[People] will be given the opportunity to be able to sober up, rest, have some food in a safe and careful place, where we’re able to monitor the health and safety of our community.
We will transport them to our property and also transport them back home so no one will be left walking out in the streets.”
In a press release last week, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Nerita Waight welcomed the change of approach.
“It is essential that these services are established as quickly as possible and that Aboriginal organisations are empowered and supported to operate these services in the way that they see fit for their communities.
“This reform is about shifting community perceptions of public intoxication from a criminal issue to a health issue.
It is essential that the Victorian Government supports the reform process through a widespread community awareness campaign.”