• Aunty Tanya Day. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
If the submission is accepted by the Coroner it will be a landmark decision as the examination of systemic racism has not been included in the full scope of an Australian Coronial inquest previously.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

30 Apr 2019 - 5:27 PM  UPDATED 30 Apr 2019 - 5:33 PM

Victorian Coroner Caitlin English is yet to make a ruling on whether or not she will allow allegations of systemic racism in the scope of the inquest into the death in custody of Tanya Day.

In December 2017, Aunty Tanya boarded a train from Echuca to Melbourne to visit family, but never made it after being arrested mid-journey for the offence of public drunkenness.

Aunty Tanya had been drinking and had fallen asleep on the train to be awoken a short time later by a ticket inspector. When Aunty Tanya failed to produce a train ticket, the Castlemaine Police were called. 

Despite being coherent at the time of their arrival, Aunty Tanya was taken into custody. Sometime afterwards she allegedly hit her head in a police holding cell and later died in hospital.

The family allege that systemic racism played a part in Aunty Tanya's death.

Lawyers for the family say that if their submission is accepted by the Coroner it will be a landmark decision as the examination of systemic racism has not been included in the full scope of an Australian Coronial inquest previously.

"What we've asked is that in mum's case that it's looked at as how she was treated, how systemic racism has affected each person's decision making and how they treated mum in that instance," Apryl Watson told NITV News.

"We just hope that the Coroner is able to have a look at that and she includes that in, because it's about time some change comes. The way that Aboriginal people are treated is just snowballing and there's not been anybody to put a stop to it. 

"There's not been any changes that have been made to make sure that there is an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody or the other disadvantages that we face, so if she does that it's definitely a huge step towards making that happen."

During the third and final directions hearing held on Tuesday, the Coroner also heard further submissions by lawyers representing Victoria Police, VLine, Ambulance Victoria and St Vincent's Hospital.

At the conclusion of the directions hearing, Ms English said she would be delivering her ruling on whether or not she will consider systemic racism in the inquest electronically within the next 4 weeks.

"Obviously it drags it out a bit for us but we're very hopeful and praying that she does make that decision that it is included," Ms Watson said in response to the adjournment.

"It's very clear to us and to the community and a lot of people around Australia that [systemic racism] played a part in mum's death," she said.

"It was the reason that she was arrested, and every single decision that led to her being put in that cell."

Human Rights Law Centre's director of legal advocacy, Ruth Barson, said newly obtained data shows that at the time of Aunty Tanya’s death, Aboriginal women were almost 10 times more likely to be targeted for being drunk in public than non-Indigenous women.

During Tuesday's court session, the family's newly appointed barrister, Emrys Nakvapil, appealed to the court by reminding the Coroner of her original decision to make a recommendation to abolish the law of public drunkenness.

Mr Nakvapil argued that the law that allowed Aunty Tanya to be arrested for the offence of public drunkenness was as much a direct cause of her death as a blow to her head. 

He urged for Ms English to examine the systemic racism allegations by "putting on a different pair of glasses" and said that parties involved in the incident could have been "doing things that they are unaware of" due to their unconscious perception of Aunty Tanya.

It was also suggested that if the Coroner were to find systemic racism as a causal factor in Aunty Tanya's death, she may consider making some preventative recommendations.

An official inquest date has been set to begin on Monday August 26 until Friday September 13. Because the inquest will be running over what would be Aunty Tanya's birthday on September 8, the family has requested that court not be in session on Monday September 9.

Family of Tanya Day call out police for being 'culturally insensitive'
Police return the belongings of Aunty Tanya Day to her family in a brown paper evidence bag at a directions hearing in the Coroner's Court of Victoria.
Petition calls for abolition of public drunkenness in Victoria
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.