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Offence of public drunkenness to be abolished

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Media Release Human Rights Law Centre | For immediate release: Thursday 22 August 2019

Offence of public drunkenness to be abolished

In the week before the inquest into Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day’s death in police custody, the Andrews Government has announced that it will abolish the offence of public drunkenness and replace it with an Aboriginal-led, public health response.

The family of Tanya Day said:

“This is welcome news, but it’s tinged with grief and sadness. In the end it took the death of our mother for the Government to repeal laws that should have been abolished 30 years ago when the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody were released,”

“The Government’s commitment is a great first step, but they need to back their words with action and repeal the law quickly so that no other Aboriginal person dies in custody,” said the Day Family.

In December 2017, Tanya Day was taken off a train and arrested for being drunk in a public place. She fell and hit her head in police custody and later died from a brain haemorrhage.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and numerous subsequent Victorian inquiries have recommended repealing the offence of public drunkenness. Since Tanya Day’s death, her family and the broader Aboriginal community have tirelessly campaigned for the offence of public drunkenness to be abolished and an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody.

“There’s still a long journey ahead in seeking justice for our mum. We’re still waiting on the truth of what happened to be revealed through the coronial process and from that, accountability. At the time mum died, Aboriginal women were around 11 times more likely to be arrested. This raises serious questions about racism in Victoria Police,” said the Day Family.

The coronial inquest into Tanya Day’s death in police custody is due to begin on Monday 26 August. The family of Tanya Day are seeking justice for their mother and want answers to:

• Who or what institution contributed to their mothers death and who should be held


• What role racism played in their mother’s death and whether she was treated differently and

to a lesser standard by Victoria Police and V/Line because she was an Aboriginal woman; • Whether their mother’s death was investigated impartially and independently, given a Victoria

Police officer was assigned to investigate the failures of other Victoria Police officers who were tasked with looking after their mother.

Ruth Barson, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is representing the family in the coronial inquest, said the Government’s announcement is welcome and a testament to the ongoing commitment of Ms Day’s family in seeking justice for their mother.

“The Government is doing the right thing repealing these discriminatory laws and putting in place an Aboriginal-led, public health response. If somebody is too drunk, they should be taken home or somewhere safe, they should not be behind bars,” said Barson.

“We’re now looking to the coronial inquest for answers on how Tanya Day went from safely sleeping on a train to dying in police custody, and who should be held responsible for her tragic death,” said Barson.

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Communications Director: 0419 100 519