Abolishing public drunkenness laws a welcome step

December 08, 2020 |

The Federation of Community Legal Centres welcomes the State Government’s decision to put health and welfare first as it moves ahead to decriminalise public drunkenness.

Federation of Community Legal Centres CEO, Serina McDuff, said the legislation, introduced into Parliament today, was a long overdue reform which recognised that people who are intoxicated need to be taken home or to a safe place, not left in a police cell or pushed into the criminal justice system.

“This announcement today is recognition of the ongoing push for change by the Aboriginal community and Tanya Day’s family,” she said.

“They have been tireless advocates for shifting from a police response to one that prioritises safety and health that will save lives. This law has disproportionately impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with devastating consequences. People found drunk in public need a safe place to go – not a police cell.”  

The Aboriginal community has been advocating for decades for public drunkenness to be decriminalised. In 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended the public drunkenness laws be repealed.

The Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020 has been introduced following the tragic death in custody of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in 2017.

To advise on implementing a health-based response, the government convened an Expert Reference Group, which consisted of representatives from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, health and legal experts. 

The ERG report recommended the government prioritise a health-based response, deliver more social services and prevention strategies, as well as ensuring people are transported to a safe place.

Ms McDuff said that for the new laws to be successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must have self-determination to develop a model that best suits their needs.

“We commend the Andrew’s Government for acting to abolish this law and for committing to listening to the Aboriginal community and health experts about how best to implement a health-based response.

“This legislation must mark the end of the era of punishment, and ensure health, safety and support.”


Sign up