As of Tuesday, November 7 – Melbourne Cup Day – public drunkenness will be decriminalised and will no longer be a a criminal offence in Victoria.
The only Australian state where public drunkenness will remain a criminal offence is Queensland.
Four years ago, the Victorian government committed to transitioning from a criminal justice response to the issue to a public health approach, though significant progress had been sidelined by the Covid pandemic.
There will still be a heavy police presence at Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday, including general duties officers, Highway Patrol members, Mounted Branch, and the Public Order Response Team.
‘With public drunkenness decriminalised on Cup Day, members will continue to encourage drunk people to seek support and assistance from family or friends,’ a Victoria Police spokesperson said.
Anyone worried they might overdo it on Melbourne Cup Day and get in legal trouble for being drunk in public, need worry no more – except if they’re in Queensland. Revellers at Derby Day on November 4 are pictured
As of Tuesday, November 7 – Melbourne Cup Day – public drunkenness will be decriminalised and will no longer be a a criminal offence in Victoria. Racegoers are pictured at Flemington on Saturday, November 4
‘There will also be the option of referring them to the public intoxication response service overseen by the Department of Health.
‘However, if they refuse and are not presenting a risk to others, there will no longer be a role for police.’
Being drunk in public does not mean someone can commit any other crime, though.
‘If a drunk person commits a criminal offence, they will be dealt with swiftly by police,’ the spokesperson said.
Police will also position drug and alcohol testing sites around the racecourse and high-risk areas to detect impaired drivers to ensure everyone gets home safe.
Below Daily Mail Australia takes a look at the November 7 changes and what you need to know.
What are the new rules?
From Tuesday, November 7 public intoxication is no longer illegal in Victoria.
Police will be unable to arrest and detain people for being drunk in public and place them in cells while they sober up.
However, they do still have the authority to arrest people for other offences which could be linked, such as public nuisance, assault, vandalism or public safety.
If police do encounter someone who is clearly drunk in a public setting and needs assistance they can direct them to a ‘sobering up centre’ which is not a police cell and there will be no record of an offence.
Victorian Police officers and racegoers are seen at the end of Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Saturday, November 4, 2023
The law in Victoria will be changed on Melbourne Cup Day to decriminalise being drunk in public (pictured: a model celebrates the opening of the 2023 Spring Racing Carnival)
Why Melbourne Cup Day?
Rather than the Victorian Government loosening up the rules for the state’s biggest party, the date has more to do with red tape.
The laws were set to be changed on November 7 last year, specifically the Monday after the Melbourne Cup weekend, but were pushed back a year by Covid-linked delays.
What is a ‘sobering up centre’?
The government had intended for a 20-bed facility in Collingwood to be part of the health response by November 7 but the building work is not set to be completed until the end of November.
The facility is a repurposed aged care home in a residential neighbourhood near a school, which has sparked backlash from residents in the area.
Sharrie Harrold, a mother of two teenagers who lives in the street, told The Age there was no consultation with residents and she was concerned for her children.
Neighbour Francesca Rush said the facility would be better attached to a hospital rather than in her ‘quiet community’.
The laws were set to be changed years ago but have been delayed by Covid disruptions
Private service provider Cohealth has been contracted by the government to run the centre as part of a three-pronged approach that also includes street outreach teams and transportation services that can get people home.
Each team will have a nurse, a drug and alcohol specialist and a vehicle that will be required to have signage, official badges and uniforms.
‘The vast majority of people who are out and about just need a bit of support to get home and that’s what will happen to the vast majority of instances,’ Premier Jacinta Allen said.
‘Whether it’s through police, whether it’s through ambulance services, those supports will be in place.’
What is the reason for the law change?
According to the Victorian Government a police response to public intoxication is ‘not appropriate and inconsistent with current community standards’.
There is concern in particular that the laws have a disproportionate effect on the Indigenous community.
The Victorian government committed to decriminalising public drunkenness at the start of an inquest into the 2017 death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day.
She was arrested on a train for being drunk in a public place and died after hitting her head in a concrete cell at Castlemaine Police Station.
A coroner found she wasn’t adequately checked on and her death was preventable.
‘Treating public drunkenness for what it is – a public health issue that demands a public health response – ensures we are keeping the community safe and reduces the risk of people dying in police custody,’ Ms Day’s family said in a statement.
Melbourne’s racing season is underway with the ‘race that stops a nation’ on Tuesday
‘As our mother’s case and all the other similar cases show, police cells are dangerous places for intoxicated people.’
Cohealth will continue to operate a six-bed trial site on Gertrude Street in Collingwood and mobile vans until the expanded site opens.
‘We are not going to continue where we have laws in this state that disproportionately see Indigenous Victorians end up in jail cells and very seriously significant consequences come as a result of that,’ Ms Allen said.
The Victorian opposition previously moved legislation in the lower house to delay decriminalising public drunkenness but it was blocked by Labor.