Victoria decriminalises public drunkenness: effects on safety

Victoria decriminalises public drunkenness: effects on safety

The new law, which started in November 2023, saw Victoria decriminalise public drunkenness and replace it with a ‘health-based response’ to help intoxicated people contact friends or family members and find their way back home safely.

This new historic law has been criticised by some as there will no longer be a deterrent effect to drinking alcohol in public. In contrast, others applaud the move as a step in the right direction to help those suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction.

Here, we explore what the new law means and how it will affect public safety.

What the new public drunkenness law means for Victorians

Being intoxicated in public will no longer be classified as a crime but rather will be seen as a health issue. Qualified outreach teams will be tasked with patrolling Victorian streets, conducting a safety assessment, which could include an alcohol breath test via a breathalyser, and transporting any drunk people to sobering up facilities within the state if required.

These outreach teams, dressed in distinctive pink polos, usually consist of qualified nurses and alcohol and drug workers, will help intoxicated people contact their friends or family, provide food or water, and can even help charge their phone or arrange transport to get home via taxi or e-hailing services.

Currently, the community health organisation run by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service has four outreach vans and a six-bed sobering-up facility in Fitzroy. There are plans for an additional six vans to be introduced and a 24/7 sobering-up centre in Collingwood soon to be made available.

Police will still get involved if need be

If a person refuses help, they will be left alone if it is safe. If the outreach team deems more acute care necessary, they will be transported to the said sobering-up facility.

However, if an intoxicated person poses a risk to themselves or others, Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria will still be available. Citizens can call triple zero if they are worried about an intoxicated person’s danger to themselves or others.

How will this affect public safety?

The effectiveness of this shift in policy will depend on how efficiently the outreach team, health services, and support systems work and collaborate to provide timely and appropriate assistance to intoxicated individuals on the streets of Victoria.

If done correctly, there could be a host of benefits brought about by this change. Some of the benefits that this new policy could bring include the following:

Reduced stigma

By treating public drunkenness as a health issue rather than a criminal offence, individuals struggling with alcoholism will be more encouraged to seek help without the fear of legal consequences.

Addresses disproportionate impact on indigenous communities

People from Australia’s Indigenous communities were disproportionately affected by previous laws, which led to a cycle of incarceration and fines. Decriminalisation shifts the response to a more compassionate and health-oriented approach. The change also acknowledges the cultural context and complexities surrounding alcohol use among these communities.

Some parties, however, are concerned that this new legislation could lead to issues including the following:

Public safety concern

The main concern brought about by many members of the public is that the deterrent effect that the previous law used to have has now been removed. This could cause people to be less careful when drinking in public, as there wouldn’t be any severe consequences if they were caught doing so. 

Transition challenges

Like many other laws, the transition from criminalisation to a health-oriented approach may require time to train law enforcement, outreach teams, and healthcare providers to efficiently learn new protocols and procedures.

Risk of more significant offences being charged on individuals

Victoria’s attorney general, Jaclyn Symes, expressed her concern about police charging intoxicated people with more significant offences once the law is passed. Her belief is based on other states experiencing this “unintended consequence”.

Symes ensured that the government would ensure effective oversight of the new law, deploying a guardian of the legislation.

Conclusion

Alcohol has become a staple in Australian society and is often present at any social gathering or sporting event. Although most Australians practise responsible drinking, many are still guilty of dangerous drinking patterns that could cause harm to themselves and to others.

By educating the public on safe drinking etiquette, we empower them to make educated decisions pertaining to drinking, whether it’s in public or even at home.

Individuals can easily monitor their intoxication levels via the use of a personal breathalyser to ensure that they are legally able to operate a vehicle and make educated decisions. Concerned family members, citizens, and authorities can employ the use of both personal or industrial breathalysers to help identify intoxicated individuals and serve them the right assistance, when necessary.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.

Written by Jaka Exstrada

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