• The family of Tanya Day led Melbourne's Rally on Saturday, January 26. Photo: Charendev Singh (Charendev Singh)Source: Charendev Singh
The family of Aunty Tanya Day and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service are asking the Andrews Labor Government to wipe public drunkenness as an offence.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

1 Feb 2019 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2019 - 4:34 PM

The family of Aunty Tanya Day, the Yorta Yorta grandmother who died in police custody in 2017, have joined the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) to petition the state's premier to scrap the offence of public drunkenness before more lives are lost.

Apryl Watson, the daughter of Ms Day, told NITV News the law needs to be abolished "to make sure that no other family has to go through this."

"There have been multiple people who have passed away because they've been arrested for that same law," she said. "There has been another member of the Day family who have passed away because of it."

As previously reported by NITV News, the Coroner’s Court of Victoria heard Aunty Tanya Day, 55, had been drinking when she fell asleep while travelling on a V/Line train from Bendigo to Melbourne to visit her daughter in 2017.

She was woken by a ticket inspector, and when she failed to produce a ticket, he called Castlemaine police to report an intoxicated person on the train, claiming she became “unruly”.

When officers arrived and woke her again, she was co-operative and able to deboard unaided, however, the police arrested her for the offence of being drunk in public.

Ms Day was placed in a cell for four hours to sober up, but evidence showed she was not checked every 30 minutes for a verbal response, as per police protocol, and she had suffered significant head injuries.

When police found her at about 8pm, emergency services were called and she was taken to Bendigo Hospital, and later St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, where she died 17 days later.

The Coroners Court heard it was likely Ms Day died of traumatic head injury whilst in custody, which ultimately resulted in a brain haemorrhage, causing death.

At the time, Coroner Caitlin English said she intended to recommend to the attorney-general that the law be changed.

"I am planning on making a recommendation as part of my recommendations and findings to abolish the crime of public drunkenness," she told the hearing.

Despite this, the Victorian Government is yet to act.

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"[Victoria Police] used that law against Mum to be able to detain her, which if they were concerned for mum's health as they were saying, they should have taken her directly to a hospital," Ms Watson said.

"They've put her in an unsafe situation by leaving her in a cell unattended. That law predominately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Victorian Government needs to follow through with what the community wants and needs. This law takes First People's lives away."

In a public statement, VALS CEO Wayne Muir urged the state government to act as soon as possible.

“The tragic death of Aunty Tanya Day shows the need for immediate changes to the law in Victoria, along with cultural competency and improved health assessment training, to prevent further deaths in custody,” Mr Muir said.

“The injury she sustained while in police custody in Castlemaine should never have happened. It was the result of a litany of failures, beginning with the failure of successive Victorian governments to fully implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody.”

In a comment to NITV News, the office of Premier Daniel Andrews said that the government would carefully consider any recommendations by the Coroner, but would not provide further comment on changes to the law.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on an individual matter currently being investigated by the Coroner," Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said.

A date for an Inquest into the death of Aunty Tanya is to be set during the next Coronal hearing in March.

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