The Victorian Government’s response to the report

The Victorian Government welcomes the report of the Expert Reference Group on public drunkenness (ERG), ‘Seeing the Clear Light of Day’. The government thanks the ERG for its thorough and tireless work in producing this important report.

The title of this report is a tribute to Tanya Day. It is an enduring reminder of the importance of these reforms and an acknowledgement of the tragic and unnecessary death of Ms Day, a proud Yorta Yorta woman and much-loved mother and grandmother.

The government acknowledges the unacceptable, disproportionate impact that Victoria’s current public drunkenness laws have had on Aboriginal people. We acknowledge that Victoria is one of only two states that have not yet decriminalised public drunkenness, and that the Aboriginal community have long advocated for public drunkenness to be decriminalised to help Victoria work towards a more just and equitable system. The ERG’s report builds on a legacy of three decades of work and activism, including the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and the recommendations of the Deputy State Coroner’s inquest into the death of Ms Day.

The government is fully committed to decriminalising public drunkenness and implementing a public health model to ensure that those who are intoxicated in public can access the healthcare and support they need. The ERG’s report provides a framework for reform that the government supports and will work to take forward and implement.

The ERG’s vision is that those who are intoxicated in public and at risk to themselves or others will be safe, will have access to culturally-appropriate care, will have minimal contact with the criminal justice system, and that the safety of the community and first responders will be protected. A key aim of the model is to reduce incarceration and prevent deaths in custody.

The data tells us that the criminalisation of public drunkenness discriminates against certain cohorts of people, in particular Aboriginal people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people experiencing homelessness, people with a substance use issue and people experiencing mental illness or distress. The new model will work to improve outcomes for these people.

In keeping with the government’s commitment, there are two key parts of the new model proposed by the ERG.

Firstly, the model is based on minimising the role of a law enforcement response to public intoxication. A key element of this is the government’s commitment to repealing existing public drunkenness offences, noting that these reforms are intended come into effect once the health model is implemented. The new model will also be based on the tenet that people should not be held in police cells merely because they are intoxicated in public, and that police’s role in responding to incidents of public intoxication should be minimised.

Secondly and importantly, the model is based on increasing access to health and social services as the primary response to public intoxication. These services will be culturally responsive, tailored to local communities, based on the best available evidence, and prioritise the cultural, psychological and physical safety of both those receiving services and service providers. Ultimately, people will be supported to recover from their immediate episode of intoxication while being offered pathways to longer-term health and social services if they need them.

The ERG’s report included 86 recommendations and detailed advice on the possible design of the health model. The government supports the ERG’s proposed overall approach and is currently considering all the recommendations in detail. The government acknowledges that adequate resourcing is a key factor in the successful implementation of these reforms, as is engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to finalise the design of the new model.

The ERG has recommended a 24-month implementation period for the public health model. While the government acknowledges that decriminalisation of public drunkenness is long overdue in Victoria, this implementation period will be critical to creating a well-designed, collaborative and culturally safe system that fully delivers on the ERG’s vision. A 24-month implementation period will allow us to:

  • Establish trial sites for the health model in specific areas in Victoria, to help us roll out the best statewide model before decriminalisation takes effect.
  • Work closely with the Aboriginal community, first responders and the broader community to enact a cultural shift in our response to public intoxication.

The Government has allocated an initial $16 million in the 2020-21 State Budget to commence implementation of these complex reforms, supporting the establishment of several trial sites across the State where our public health model will be trialled and refined.

In light of the above implementation period, it is anticipated that the effect of the legislative repeal of public drunkenness will not come into effect until 2022.

The Victorian Government once again thanks the ERG for its valuable advice and tireless efforts.

We will continue to engage closely with the community and key stakeholders, particularly in the Aboriginal community, as we work to deliver these important reforms.

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