Sadly, a situation all too common on the streets of Victoria in today’s society is being drunk and disorderly.
However, the law has often been seen as discriminatory, especially toward indigenous people. In fact, the law itself – in which Victoria is one of the last states set to abolish – was recommended to be done so in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody almost 30 years ago.
The current legislation itself refers to Section 13 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (VIC) in which it a criminal act and can have a maximum of 8 penalty units applied (approximately $1,289.52 in Victoria) for “any person found drunk in a public place”.
Within the Summary Offences Act 1966 (VIC), a person is deemed to be “drunk” if an ordinary person believes them to be, through their speech, coordination and/or other behaviour. So, in other words, a subjective review of their behaviour in public places is required to make an assessment.
Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, has recognised that Indigenous people are most vulnerable to being targeted by public drunkenness laws, foreshadowing the replacement of these laws by a health-based regime.
How will this affect you?
After the unfortunate events of Tanya Day’s death, in which she was removed from a train in Castlemaine for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ and subsequently placed into custody for being drunk in public, there is a planned change to the law.
The revisions of the law in no-way seek to make it acceptable to be overtly drunk in public, but it is taking into account the societal norms of being so, or doing so, many times to help an individual get back home or to a place for them to rest safely.
In addition, the abolition of the law is not to make it ‘less safe’ for people to be out in public, with an expert reference group being established by the Victorian government to provide advice about the decriminalisation and development of alternative ‘health-based approaches’ to the issues with the existing legislation.
By no means does this mean that the Victorian police will be any more lenient with you or people you know should you be drunk and disorderly in public. They will still have the right to remove and detain people should they be acting in a way that is dangerous to themselves or to the public.
The reforms work to stop the situation and providing a meaningful and reformative approach for individuals, rather than locking people up.