• Tanya Day's, daughter Apryl Watson (centre), march to the Coroners Court after smoking ceremony in Kings Domain Park Monday, August 26, 2019. (AAP)Source: AAP
The decriminalisation of public drunkenness was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 30 years ago.
Douglas Smith

4 Feb 2021 - 3:23 PM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2021 - 4:50 PM

The Victorian parliament is set to decriminalise public drunkenness on Thursday - 30 years after it was first recommended by the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.

In Australia, Victoria is one of only two states yet to act on the recommendation of the Royal Commission to decriminalise being intoxicated in public - the other being Western Australia.

Following the death in custody of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in 2017, the Victorian Government committed to repealing public drunkenness laws in 2019 after immense campaigning from Ms Day’s family and the Victorian Aboriginal community.  

Ms Day was arrested for being intoxicated in a public place in December 2017. Soon afterwards, Ms Day died in police custody. 

Speaking to NITV News on Thursday, Ms Day’s daughter Apryl Watson said her family welcomed the news, but said it should have been done long ago. 

“We’re having these conversations today because of the Victorian government’s failure to implement those recommendations back in the nineties,” said Ms Watson. 

“If that law had been decriminalised back then our Mum could still be here today.

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If passed in the lower house, it is expected that the proposal will be put to a vote in the upper house in the next fortnight. 

If passed again, the reforms will come into effect in two years’ time, which will allow a transition away from the current criminal law-based response to being drunk in a public place to a best practice, health-based solution.

Ms Day said she hoped Victoria Police were starting to take the expected law change more seriously. 

“I just hope that between now and the two years that it takes to become actual law, they're doing everything appropriate to consult with the community, with our family and with other families that have experienced a death in similar circumstances,” she said. 

“I hope that Victoria Police, knowing that this is coming, are taking it seriously today and know that there are other ways to deal with people that may be intoxicated instead of putting them into a dangerous and unsafe situation.”

In a statement, Human Rights lawyer representing the Day family, Monique Hurley, said the laws were discriminatory and people have died in custody because of them.  

“Members of the Victorian Parliament owe it to the Day family to support these long overdue reforms and wipe public drunkenness laws from the statute books,” said Ms Hurley. 

“The current laws are discriminatory and have led to people dying in police custody.

"If somebody is too drunk, they should be taken home or somewhere safe - they should not be locked up behind bars.” 

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