To ensure people who are intoxicated in public can access the supports they need to stay safe, the Victorian government has changed the laws that make public drunkenness a crime.

This means being drunk in public is treated as a health matter, not as a criminal offence, with a new health-based response to support greater access to health and social supports for Victorians.

The new health model promotes culturally safe and therapeutic pathways to support people who are intoxicated in public, while minimising their contact with the criminal justice system.

This includes outreach services such as sobering centres and places of safety, including dedicated services for Aboriginal people.

Victoria’s historical public drunkenness laws have had unacceptable and disproportionate impacts on certain communities — particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This reform addresses key recommendations from coroners' reports and the Australian Government's Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Previous laws have also impacted other groups in the Victorian community that would benefit from greater access to health and social support rather than a criminal justice approach. This includes people experiencing housing instability, mental ill-health, and other substance use issues, as well as people from diverse communities.

Evidence and experience in other jurisdictions show that transitioning away from a criminal response will reduce deaths in custody and provide better outcomes for both at-risk individuals and the broader community.

The new health-led approach is based on harm reduction, which recognises that people who are intoxicated in public and require assistance need a supportive health response – not a criminal justice response. If somebody is intoxicated in public and needs support, they should be taken home or to a place that’s safe – they shouldn’t be locked up.

Under decriminalisation, the police response to public intoxication is informed by the behaviour of the person, rather than the intoxication itself. This means that people won’t be placed in a police cell or arrested just for being intoxicated in public.

Ambulance Victoria is continuing to respond to emergency health risks.

Where community safety or emergency health risks are not present, police and paramedics are able to provide consent-based support to people in need of assistance, including referrals to the new health-led services where appropriate and available.

The government will be delivering dedicated outreach and place of safety services for Aboriginal people in metropolitan Melbourne and in 10 regional and outer metropolitan locations, alongside a generalist service for the broader population in metropolitan Melbourne.

People accessing the new health response also have the option to be connected with longer-term supports, including for support with mental health and wellbeing, housing, family violence, alcohol and other drugs, and financial difficulties.

You can find out more about the new health response to public drunkenness by visiting the Department of Health's website (External link)