On anniversary of deaths in custody Royal Commission, over 80 organisations call on Premier Andrews to repeal public drunkenness offence

On anniversary of deaths in custody Royal Commission, over 80 organisations call on Premier Andrews to repeal public drunkenness offence

On the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, over 80 Aboriginal, health, human rights, housing, legal and women’s organisations are calling on Premier Andrews to abolish the offence of public drunkenness – a key recommendation of the Royal Commission.

The organisations signed a letter from the family of Yorta Yorta woman, Tanya Day, demanding the Victorian Government repeal the offence of public drunkenness and replace it with a community health response. This is in addition to the almost 7,000 signatures the family has collected in support of their petition.

Tanya’s daughter, Belinda Stevens, said the law should have been struck out when the Royal Commission first recommended it 28 years ago.

“Our mum should have never been arrested and she should have never been locked up. She should be with us today. The Andrews Government must get rid of discriminatory and unfair laws like public drunkenness so that no other family has to live with this grief,” said Stevens.

In December 2017, Tanya Day was travelling from Echuca to Melbourne when she was taken off the train in Castlemaine and locked up for being drunk in public. She fell and hit her head in the police cell and died from a brain haemorrhage. 

Tanya was 55 years old when she died. She was a much-loved mother, grandmother, auntie and respected Aboriginal community member.

Over the past three decades, in addition to the Royal Commission, numerous expert reports have recommended that the offence of public drunkenness be abolished and replaced with a community health response. Victoria is one of only two states that have failed to repeal the offence.

In December 2018, at the first directions hearing in the inquest into Tanya Day’s death, the Coroner took the unique step of foreshowing that she will recommend the repeal of the offence of public drunkenness. The Andrews Government is yet to commit to getting rid of the law.

 

Quotes from organisations:

Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of Djirra, said:

“Djirra works daily with Aboriginal women who experience multiple forms of system violence just like Tanya Day did. It’s shameful that 28 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the public drunkenness law still has not been repealed by the Victorian Government.”

Trevor Pearce, CEO of VACCHO, said:

“Our people must be safe, especially culturally safe. When we are not this is the worst outcome, people die. Drunkenness is a public health issue, not a criminal one. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Death in Custody was handed down in 1991 and made 365 recommendations. Recommendations 79 and 80 concerning public drunkenness are yet to be implemented by Victoria and Queensland. As long as public drunkenness remains an offence the lives of our people and the rest of Victorians are at risk.”

Cheryl Axleby, CoChair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Change the Record, said:

“Premier Andrews must respect the calls of Tanya Day’s family and act on the Royal Commission’s recommendations. He must not let this offence take any more lives, like Tanya Day’s. The offence of public drunkenness is too often used to target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and must be abolished.”

Ruth Barson, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is representing the family in the coronial inquest into Tanya Day’s death, said:

“To stop people dying in custody, governments need to change the law. Premier Andrews should show his mettle and act today by repealing the offence of public drunkenness. If somebody is too drunk, they need help to get home or for an ambulance to be called – they should not be behind bars.”

Open letter calling for the offence of public drunkenness to be abolished

Sign the petition to support Tanya Day’s family here

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Human Rights Law Centre Director of Communications: 0419 100 519