Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (11:13): I rise today to speak on the Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020. Before I begin, I would like to also acknowledge the contribution made by Ms Watt. It was personal, lived experience in the debate, and that is very important in this bill. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution made by Mr Bourman from his experiences as a police officer as well, just showing that being a police officer is a very tough job indeed. And I begin by saying that, as this is being broadcast, my speech will contain references to a deceased person, which may cause distress to Indigenous people. This bill before us comes as a result of a 30-year-old royal commission recommendation and the Tanya Day report formulated over the tragic death of an Indigenous Victorian woman. Tanya Day was arrested for being drunk on public transport, and what happened to Ms Day should never happen again. I send my thoughts to her family, who will grieve the loss of their loved one indefinitely. I have lived in remote Indigenous communities in my time as a schoolteacher in Western Australia, and I know what family means to each and every Indigenous person, something which I shall talk about later. The government has the right intention with this bill in decriminalising public drunkenness. However, it disappoints me to say that this bill does not strike the balance of creating a health issue whilst maintaining public safety. In reviewing this bill I considered the many, many situations I was often faced with as a police officer and how reducing the ability for police to respond to the safety and welfare of a drunk person without any alternative will impact the safety of not only that person but also those around them. As such, I cannot support the bill in its current form. This bill goes to the heart of an issue that should have been dealt with in 1991—or 1979, when New South Wales decriminalised public drunkenness—but here we are in 2021 voting on a bill to decriminalise public drunkenness without actually knowing how the government plans to deal with this as a public health issue in practice. The 2006 Victorian inquiry into strategies to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol stated that, and I quote: … public drunkenness in Victoria should be decriminalised subject to sufficient safeguards being put in place. And it said that a necessary requirement of such a law would be: … adequate numbers of sobering up centres and associated services. I have not heard any statement from the government on how many sobering-up centres will be needed, where they will be, what they will look like and who will be the responsible organisation taking care of intoxicated persons. Further, the expert reference group, the ERG, from the Day report said that the government should repeal the offence of public drunkenness, but only section 13. So why are sections 14 to 16 being repealed as well? Hopefully that will be raised in the committee process. Like I have said, we agree that public drunkenness should be decriminalised and should be treated as a health issue, but let us not leave it there. How about we look at improving the lifestyles and health of all Indigenous persons? In fact in my maiden speech I spoke of my experiences as a schoolteacher and my firsthand observations of the impact and frequency of abuse suffered by children as well as domestic abuse suffered by many families. For those of you in this place who are not aware, this week is Ochre Ribbon Week—I tried to get an ochre ribbon but I could not locate one—which aims to raise awareness of the impacts of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. My time in the Central Desert of Western Australia in the Ngaanyatjarra lands—and Hansard, you might have to contact me—has made me become a strong advocate for improved living standards for all Indigenous peoples, and that means those in rural, regional and remote areas across the country. Protesting Indigenous issues should not be confined to metropolitan areas. If we are serious about improving the health, education and lifestyles of Indigenous peoples, then we need to look beyond Bourke Street and start looking further afield, because if you think conditions are bad here for Indigenous people, you ain’t seen nothin’. By all means march on the streets of Melbourne and all the capital cities, but do not stop there—keep marching beyond the back of Bourke. I believe that I am the only person in this place and perhaps the other place who has actually lived within a remote Indigenous community. In my 2½ years of living there, and many times as the only whitefella living in the community, well, you learn a thing or two about Indigenous issues, and although my time there was some time ago, I am disappointed to read and hear that conditions have not improved much. The Close the Gap campaign was launched in 2007, and disappointingly only two of the existing key four priority areas for reform seem to be on target. On this, I have read the Worlds Apart policy paper, written in January by Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, which I encourage you all to read, if you have not already. She stated that despite the billions of dollars being spent on Indigenous communities there has been very little improvement, and even in some remote communities the situation has regressed. Ms Price went on to say that conditions in some of these towns are often comparable to Third World countries, and having lived there and seen images of Third World countries, I can totally agree with that sentiment. Having this in our country, of a seemingly prosperous nature, should be ringing alarm bells everywhere. The problem is that those alarm bells are going off in such far off remote places that nobody hears them, unlike the alarm bells that go off in metropolitan Melbourne when tragedy strikes. Do not let the loud voices of protests in the cities drown out the voices of Indigenous communities in rural, regional and remote areas. As Ms Price summed up in her report: Were such conditions to exist in one of our major cities it would be a national crisis. And do not give me the answer of it being a federal issue. This is an issue for all Australians, and as leaders we need to get creative in our solutions to these issues. I do not have the answers, but I will keep beating the drum for Indigenous communities that you do not see or those that you do not hear simply because of their geographical location. Anyway, back to the bill that we have before us. Put simply, this bill takes away something without putting anything in its place to address the issue. With this bill there is so much that we do not know. We do not know how drunks will get to designated places of safety. We do not know where those places of safety will be, including the trial sites. We do not know to what extent police will be involved, including when situations escalate. We do not know what the plans are on occasions of surge capacity like New Year’s Eve. We do not know what happens when family or friends do not pick up loved ones from places of safety after being contacted, and we do not know how banning notices will be replaced, if at all—and much more. This bill removes a vital police power and replaces it with no alternative. By all means, decriminalise public drunkenness. In fact do not wait for another 20-odd months, do it tomorrow. Strike it out, but replace it with a power to detain and convey to a location or facility that can best deal with a person depending on their demeanour. This could be a home, it could be a friend’s place, a hospital or any other health facility or a police station should all else fail. There needs to be a process in place that ensures the safety of an intoxicated person. I know that the 20-odd months time frame allows for these processes to be drawn out, but if that is the case, then why not simply legislate for a trial in the meantime so we get it right before launching the whole bill. It seems the process is a little bit backwards in design. Looking through the Summary Offences Act 1966, this bill takes away the opportunity for police to detain people for drunk and disorderly conduct, section 15, and those who behave in a riotous or disorderly manner in a public place while drunk, section 16. This is replaced with no other power to arrest or detain. Following the passage of this bill the closest thing police will have in place of the two aforementioned offences is a move-on notice if someone is likely to breach the peace or is a risk to public safety. This does not give them a power to arrest. In fact if a drunk offender comes back to the place you have moved them on from, you can only give them a fine of 5 penalty units. If you think this will be a deterrent to the many drunk people out on a Saturday night, you need to walk a night in the shoes of a police officer. This bill is unfortunately premised on the fact, and assumes, that every person who is drunk is willing to go home or to wherever they are asked to—a hospital, home to bed or even a place of safety. This is simply not the case regardless of if the person assisting them wears a uniform or not. It seems the solution is clear: repeal section 13 but make a detention power for situations where police need to take that person to a place until they are safe to be released. Police also need this detention power to move the person until a family member, friend or carer signs a waiver or similar and they are handed over. This ensures a drunk person is safe but also that our police can get back on the beat. I have experience as a Victoria Police member not that long ago. I believe Ms Terpstra in her speech— I stand to be corrected here, but I believe she spoke about people that are so drunk they are stumbling around and slurring their words and asked, ‘How can they throw a punch?’. Well, they can. I have been on the end of many punches thrown by many drunk people. It does happen. I am happy to talk to Ms Terpstra, perhaps later on, and explain to her my experiences as a police officer dealing with intoxicated persons. Not all of them are loving and caring. But I do agree that drunkenness should be treated as a health complaint and not a criminal one. Being drunk should not attract a fine or a conviction; it should be decriminalised. In fact that is what most of the police currently do with drunk people. We seek to have them taken or conveyed anywhere but the police station. Conveying and having a drunk person in the cells is and always has been a last resort for police. Like I said, drunk people are not always compliant. In fact the majority are non-compliant, and their state of drunkenness is often exacerbated by mental health and drug issues. This bill seems to allow for the actions to deal with compliant drunk persons, but what about the noncompliant ones? I am not too sure how many of you in this place have had to deal with a drunk person in the early hours of the morning and to convince them to do something that they do not want to do— for instance, leave a pub—but it is extremely difficult. Police are the first call to attend a drunk causing a disturbance, and I can guarantee this will still occur despite the triage system proposed in the bill as there will be simply not enough alternative transport options or people willing and able to assist in managing a belligerent drunk person. I can also guarantee that police will be called out on many occasions to those places where drunks are conveyed to under this bill as many drunk people do not simply go to sleep and comply with the rules and regulations of where they are staying. In the end the police will be called to assist as it is their duty to protect the community and this involves protecting the community from violent and aggressive drunks. On this, police, or any other person or organisation for that matter, will need to be extremely vigilant and mindful of putting an intoxicated person back into the home because of the possibility of the escalation of domestic violence. Also, what happens during major events, especially New Year’s Eve, if this bill should pass? I can tell you from my experience that in Geelong, as an example, on New Year’s Eve it is not unusual to have all the cells full of intoxicated persons, and we are talking 50 to 60-odd coming through the books. What happens to all of these people? Hospitals will not be able to take them and other facilities will not. It then becomes a duty of care issue, and given the risk-adverse nature of policing nowadays, I can see some situations where a drunk person left to their own devices may come to grief in a serious way. Also, what about single-person stations and smaller rural police stations having drunk person complaints? It is hard enough to get an ambulance out to these areas for an emergency, let alone to take care of a drunk. In regard to sobering-up centres, I note that in other states that have decriminalised public drunkenness sobering-up centres existed before legislation was put in place. It has become quite evident that in most states sobering-up centres have become a refuge for the homeless, which is a good thing at times. The reason I raise this here is that there is no outlined threshold to displace someone from a soberingup centre but what we will find, as other states including Western Australia have, is that beds are quickly taken up by those who have nowhere else to go. This becomes an issue when we need surge capacity. On one day over summer the Surf Coast tragically experienced three or four near drownings and occupied all of our ambulance services and hospitals in that area. It has been reported to me that our closest ambulance was being sent there from North Melbourne. I know as a former cop that there are quiet times and there are busy times, but we need to prepare for the busy times appropriately for the safety of the community. In relation to surge capacity, news just came out this week that almost half the acute mental health patients in our state spend 8 hours or more waiting for a hospital bed. Considering that many regularly intoxicated people have underlying mental health issues, how is the government prepared to deal with a large number of people requiring hospital beds for intoxication and those with acute mental health issues who our hospitals cannot deal with right now? Of concern with regard to transport, the expert reference group provided a table of the transport options under the health model in the Day report. None of these bodies except police deal with high-risk individuals or those who do not consent to being transported. Speaking from experience, this is a large proportion of intoxicated people, like I have said. The police have extensive training in dealing with intoxicated persons, especially as many have underlying mental health issues, like I just said, and drug dependence issues. Are we expecting volunteers or untrained persons at sobering-up centres to safely manage these people? I hope not. Taxis and Ubers—I am sorry, Rod, for mentioning that name—already reject drunk people from getting in their taxis. If we are recruiting them to take intoxicated persons and at-risk passengers, are we asking them to assume responsibility for that person, and are they then liable for negligence should that person suffer an injury or worse? For those who may think that this is a bit of a cop-out, Crown Casino submitted the following in their submission to the 2006 Victorian inquiry. They said that they did not support decriminalising public drunkenness because: In Crown’s experience, where a person is intoxicated and unaccompanied by others, it has few alternatives open to it for the removal of drunken patrons, other than calling for police assistance … Members of the police force who are on the front line are frequently the only resource occupiers of licensed premises can call upon at any time. Any licensee who deals with intoxicated persons is constantly juggling between providing a duty of care to that person and maintaining the safety of their patrons. Who else are they going to call with drunks entering their premises? Ghostbusters perhaps. I have spoken previously about banning notices. Under section 148B of the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 a banning notice can be made for up to 72 hours where police have reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is committing or has committed a specific offence in the designated area. I make the point that without having public drunkenness, drunk and disorderly in a public place or behaving in a riotous manner in a public place designated as offences, banning notices for these offences will not be able to be issued. When I was a police officer, many times issuing a banning notice, in particular on a weekend, to stop someone from coming back to certain licensed premises or even the CBD the following night was an incredibly effective way of allowing the police to maintain the power to reduce not only further offences but also the risks to members of the public when that drunk person did not comply. So my question is: what happens with banning notices as a result of this bill? It is a good thing to look at other states when considering this bill and how it may play out in practice. New South Wales decriminalised public drunkenness in 1979 but replaced this with move-on laws whereby police members can direct someone to leave a public place and not return for a maximum of 6 hours due to being intoxicated and disorderly. If they return, it is an offence. South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory decriminalised public drunkenness but they can detain a person when there is a welfare concern for that person. Western Australia decriminalised public drunkenness in 2004 but they can detain a person without being charged with an offence if they appear intoxicated in public without there needing to be a concern for the person’s welfare. Interestingly, in 2011 Western Australia started recriminalising public drunkenness or giving police additional powers to deal with offences by drunk persons. Greg Swensen from the University of Western Australia stated, and I quote: The tranche of ‘law and order’ reforms adopted since mid 2004 seem to involve the re-criminalisation of the management of public intoxication in WA, which has been justified as necessary to increase public safety, particularly in the Northbridge night time entertainment precinct by targeting anti-social behaviour, attributable to public intoxication. As I and my staff always do, we have consulted a number of people and listened to the feedback and the sentiment from the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation and the Salvation Army, to name a few who support this bill. My interest lies with the police and ambulance unions, who have major concerns about aspects of this legislation and who will literally be our front line for any cases of public drunkenness. The intent to decriminalise is not in question. The Police Association Victoria has made it very clear to the government that it supports decriminalising public drunkenness but states that this bill does not support police in keeping the community safe. In summary, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party supports decriminalising public drunkenness; it needs to be treated as a health issue. However, this bill goes beyond its intention and will limit the ability for the community to be protected. Removing the offences in sections 14, 15 and 16, which pose threats to the safety of others, is a dangerous move without anything, including detaining powers, to replace them with. Without any information about how this law will work in practice, we cannot support the bill in its current form.


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