Victoria’s current public intoxication laws have had an unacceptable and disproportionate impact on the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which is why from 7 November 2023, being intoxicated in public will no longer be a criminal offence.
This reform responds to extensive Aboriginal community advocacy and action and key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
As we make the transition from the current justice response to a health-led response to public intoxication, a range of new services will be available across the state for people who find themselves intoxicated, and in need of help.
The new health-led model will see outreach services supporting people who are intoxicated in public in the areas they are needed most, and if needed, providing them with transport to a safe place.
For many people, this will be their own home or that of a family member, friend or carer. For others, it will be a sobering service or a place of safety, which are culturally appropriate and safe spaces they can recover and receive support.
The health-led model prioritises services for the Aboriginal community, in acknowledgement of the disproportionate impact public intoxication laws and police interactions have had on Aboriginal people.
Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police will continue to help Victorians as they normally would in instances where there are emergency health or community safety risks.
It’s important to note that decriminalisation will abolish the offence of public drunkenness. It does not impact existing laws and regulations relating to the supply and consumption of liquor, major events, or the consumption of alcohol in public places (as regulated by local councils).
About the statewide model
A health-led approach
The new model will focus on providing support for people who may have otherwise come into contact with police. Given the disproportionate impact on the Aboriginal community, the model prioritises the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal people living in Victoria.
We will be delivering dedicated outreach services and places of safety for Aboriginal people in metropolitan Melbourne and in regional and outer metropolitan locations; and a general non-cohort-specific service in metropolitan Melbourne.
Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police will continue to provide a response in instances of public intoxication where there are emergency health risks or community safety risks. In the absence of such risks, police officers will provide support to individuals in need of assistance, including referrals to the new health-led services where appropriate and available.
For police, in the absence of community safety risks, this may include providing general support such as contacting friends or family, arranging transport, referring the person to the new health-led services where appropriate, or support them to contact alternative local support services. Police may decide to leave a person in place where support is no longer required, or consent is not provided. As they currently do, police will continue to contact ambulance services where a serious health risk is identified.
For ambulance services, there is expected to be limited change to current responses. Ambulance services will continue to respond to people who require emergency care and, if necessary, transport them to emergency departments. They may also contact police if there are community safety risks.
Why we’re taking this approach
This health-based model will help divert people away from a police response and increase their access to health and social services.
People who are intoxicated, who otherwise pose no danger to themselves or others, require this service because the current criminal justice led response is not appropriate and inconsistent with current community standards.
The model prioritises services for the Aboriginal community, in acknowledgement of the disproportionate impact public intoxication laws and police interactions have had on Aboriginal people. This reform ultimately aims to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody and is in recognition of the strong and sustained advocacy from the Aboriginal community for reform to the way that government systems respond to people who are intoxicated in public.
The model been developed in consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Group and other Aboriginal stakeholders.
Local consultation will occur in the coming months to ensure flexibility in local delivery.
Who can access the services
The health model will provide support to any person who meets the eligibility criteria. A person can generally access the service if they:
- are intoxicated in public
- are within the service region
- do not have urgent health needs that require an emergency response
- consent to receive the service/s.
- do not pose a serious and imminent safety risk to themselves or other individuals.
Services may come into contact with children and young people who are intoxicated in public or who are in the company of an adult who is intoxicated. In these cases, children and young people will be given care and support that is child safe.
What this means for the current trial sites
Four trial sites were established to help inform the health-led response to public intoxication, located in the City of Yarra, Dandenong, Castlemaine and Shepparton.
Data, feedback and other information from these trial sites continue to be used to test and refine the new service model.
What the new model means for the Victorian public
The new health-based model will ensure that people who are found intoxicated in a public place can receive support that prioritises their health, safety and wellbeing.
These reforms and the decriminalisation of public intoxication focus on harm reduction in order to ensure that those who are intoxicated in public receive an effective response to their immediate needs. This approach will mean people can be transported to a safe location to support their recovery.
The model will also help to connect people experiencing alcohol or substance misuse with other services that can support them.
The model has been designed with input from those most impacted by the current legislation – Aboriginal people and communities throughout Victoria.
Members of the public who encounter a person who appears to be intoxicated should continue to contact emergency services if they believe the person requires medical assistance or poses any danger to themselves or others.
Emergency services will be able to make referrals to health outreach teams or other appropriate services.
Find out more about the health-led response
New services are being established to ensure that people who are intoxicated in public have access to safe and appropriate support.
Following a competitive tender process, dedicated Aboriginal public intoxication services in Melbourne, Frankston and Wyndham will be delivered by the Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation.
These services will include outreach and transport services and a sobering centre in St Kilda.
Service providers have also been confirmed across regional Victoria, where there will be assertive outreach services and on-demand places of safety available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across eight regional service areas.
These services will be led by Aboriginal organisations, in partnership with some local health services, to help ensure they are culturally safe and appropriate.
This Aboriginal service response responds to tireless Aboriginal community advocacy and action – and key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
The focus on delivering Aboriginal-specific services recognises the disproportionate impact of the previous public drunkenness legislation on Aboriginal people living in Victoria.
Services will continue to scale up in the coming months.
4 August 2023
A new 20 bed sobering centre will be established at 3 Cambridge St, Collingwood, delivering on key reforms and helping to keep Victorians who are intoxicated in public safe.
The Collingwood site is close to the CBD, the highest demand area for public intoxication services, and major roads to support outreach across metro Melbourne. It is also close to public transport and St Vincent’s hospital.
Additional outreach and sobering services for Aboriginal people will be stood up across the state following continued engagement with Aboriginal communities and health experts.
30 August 2022
In April 2022, the Victorian Government announced a deferral of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness to November 2023. Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health sector, this deferral will maintain momentum for reforms while ensuring a safe health-based model can be developed and implemented across the state.
On 22 June 2022, legislation was introduced to enable this deferral to November 2023, as part of the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill.
On 30 August 2022, the Bill received Royal Assent, enabling formal deferral of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness to November 2023.
9 June 2022
In June 2022 the Government allocated an additional $50 million to public intoxication reforms over two years (2022-23 and 2023-24). This funding will enable the continuation and expansion of the trial site program, including the establishment of standalone Aboriginal service responses in Yarra and Shepparton; an expansion of the Custodial Notifications Scheme, which provides support to Aboriginal community members detained in custody; evaluation of trial sites to inform the state-wide rollout; and implementation planning for the state-wide rollout including staffing and training costs.
Reviewed 08 November 2023