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Current laws in Victoria make being drunk in a public place a criminal offence. These laws disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people who would benefit from health and social support, rather than a criminal justice response.
In 2019, the Victorian Government acknowledged that reform was long overdue and committed to decriminalising public drunkenness and replacing the current criminal justice response with a health-based approach. This means putting the right programs in place to help people who are intoxicated in public access the appropriate support they need to stay safe.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have advocated for the decriminalisation of public drunkenness for decades and this reform responds to extensive community action, as well as key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the coronial inquest into the tragic death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in 2017.
Tanya Day was arrested for being drunk in a public place and was placed in a police cell in Castlemaine, where she later died. Ms Day’s story reflects a much larger systemic issue across Victoria.
Evidence and experience in other jurisdictions show that transitioning away from the current criminal response to a best practice, health-based approach will save lives and reduce deaths in custody.
As such, being drunk in public will be decriminalised in Victoria in November 2023.
Localised and culturally safe health-based models will instead assist people with their immediate health and safety and connect them to long-term wraparound support to address their more complex needs.
Trial sites in the City of Yarra, City of Greater Dandenong, City of Greater Shepparton and Mount Alexander Shire (Castlemaine) are being established to test and develop the new model, ahead of a state-wide rollout at the end of 2023.
The Victorian Government is working closely with partners in the Aboriginal community, health experts and key stakeholders to ensure that all four trial sites provide culturally safe support for all Victorians.
This includes standalone services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the City of Yarra and the City of Greater Shepparton.
A health-based response
An evidence-based harm reduction approach to providing care and support to people who are intoxicated in public will save lives and provide better outcomes for at-risk individuals and the broader community.
The new state-wide health-based model will be informed by findings from the four trial sites, which are managed in partnership with local health services and Aboriginal organisations.
The basis of the new model will see outreach services ensuring intoxicated people are transported to a safe place where they can receive appropriate support.
The outreach service component will work alongside local health and social support services to ensure people can access follow-up or ongoing support for concerns including alcohol and other drugs, family violence, homelessness, Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing, mental illness and/or psychological distress and financial difficulties.
Trials will also identify what additional integrated services and infrastructure may be required to best support all Victorians.
Findings from the public intoxication trial will ensure the new health-based model is safe and effective.
Four trial sites are currently being established and will underpin the new legislation to decriminalise public drunkenness in November 2023.
The four trial sites have been identified across different local government areas, including two in regional Victoria to ensure the model is tested in diverse settings. The sites were chosen to help inform the types of supports that are needed for areas of varying demand across the state.
- The City of Yarra trial will be the first to commence. A standalone Aboriginal-led response will be delivered by specialist Aboriginal services Dardi Munwurro and the Aboriginal Community Justice Panels (ACJP). This will run alongside a general service delivered by cohealth and Salvation Army.
- The City of Greater Shepparton will have a standalone Aboriginal-led response delivered by Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative and ACJP. The general service will be delivered by Primary Care Connect and Goulburn Valley Health.
- The City of Greater Dandenong will be delivered by Monash Health. ACJP and Ngwala Willumbong will deliver culturally safe supports for Aboriginal communities.
- Mount Alexander Shire (Castlemaine) will be led by Castlemaine Health. ACJP will join other Aboriginal partner organisations to deliver culturally safe supports for Aboriginal communities.
Public drunkenness to be decriminalised in November 2023
22 June 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, legislation was introduced to enable this deferral to November 2023, as part of the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill.
Further investment in a health-based response
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 03 March 2023