Second Reading: Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020

I rise to make some points today on the Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020. Basically, this is a bill to decriminalise public drunkenness. Clearly that is something that we would all agree on, to want to improve and make sure we can have a society that has fewer problems from people being drunk in public and causing problems.

The challenge I see is that we have not got an alternative for the police, who now have responsibility for the safety of our community. And when somebody is wreaking a bit of havoc when they have got too much alcohol on board and are not taking responsibility or are unable to take responsibility for their behaviours because of the effects of alcohol, we currently have a police force that is able to assist.

I worked for a long time in health, and I absolutely understand the health aspects of this issue. I also understand that the driver for this change came from the Aboriginal deaths in custody report from some years ago.

Clearly it is an issue and we never want to see anybody die in custody. And what we need to do is give the police and the health professionals the resources and tools to be able to address this. What I do not see in this legislation is exactly that. I do not see an alternative model developed to deal with people who are needing to sober up. And I do not see alternative powers given to the police to be able to do something in the situation, such as happened in New South Wales—when they brought in this law of public drunkenness, they also enacted the move-on the laws.

Now, at this point in time I feel that the police are feeling very frustrated. My brother and I both started in our professions around the same time. He became a policeman, I became a nurse, and clearly those two professions often interrelate. When you are in accident emergency you have got the police in there with you sometimes when you need them. Anyway, I have a close relationship with his career and his mates and his friends. I went out to the police, particularly his friends—and well, my friends as well, I suppose—and the local police.

Obviously having grown up in the area—not that I have ever had any need to know the police professionally—and having worked in accident emergency, you certainly get to know the police.

I actually asked a few of them what their thoughts were on this, because I think they are the ones that are going to be left dealing with the situation. And I just want to read to you, because I thought one of the responses I got from a policeman really captured their concern and demonstrates that there is not an understanding, they have not been consulted and they do not know what the alternative is for them. So I will just read it. It says:

“I see you wanted the police’s view of the proposed drunk legislation. As a supervisor, I see a huge risk that having a drunk in our cell poses on us as police members. They may fall and hit their head, or they may self-asphyxiate or they may be that angry they act out with self-harm or hitting their head against the wall. Proposing it to be a health issue in itself, I do not disagree with, and I would love the risk to be taken away from me as a supervisor, but in saying that, at what cost?

“What powers will we have to remove the drunk off the street before they assault someone, potentially kill someone, walk out in front of a car killing themselves, leaving others traumatised? It is not an easy solution. When we lock someone up it is not just because they are drunk. If they have got someone to look after them at home, we will more than likely take them there. The trouble is the aggressive ones who have not committed a crime yet but likely will if left on the street, or those that are just too much risk to themselves are the ones we need to lock up to sober up.

“If this is replaced with a sobering up centre, who looks after them? Can they just leave and go back to where the same issue will present? And in regional areas where there is only one response unit, will they be tied up being a security guard at a hospital et cetera?

“At the end of the day, to me, as much as I do not want to be locking up and looking after drunks, before decriminalising there needs to be a feasible option to replace it in order to keep the community safe. In my opinion, drunks on the streets will only make our job harder and the community less safe.”

I think that really captures it.

In my community I have been very involved with the Aboriginal groups through South-West Coast over a 20-year period, and it is my experience that there are very good relationships between the Aboriginal communities and the ACCHOs, the Aboriginal community controlled health organisations—I was employed as the nurse for one—and the police. It is the elders and the relationships that we fostered. We would get calls.

I would not personally, but the families would get calls, and somebody was always there. One of the features of the Framlingham Aboriginal community was that there was always a home that someone could go to, because it was a very communal living environment—obviously coming from the background of being a mission, and it is still affectionately called ‘the Mish’ by the community there.

But the reality is that over the time where we have had problems—20 years ago when that report came out and we started talking as a health community about how we were going to address this—we have developed relationships, and the police do a very good job and the Aboriginal community does a very good job.

Often the guy or woman who is pretty drunk is not too happy at that situation but eventually it all works out for the best. The police do not want people in cells like they have stated through that policeman who I just quoted—I read you his response.

So having public drunkenness removed without an alternative just does not add up. I had a personal experience when I first started in Parliament. I went to the CEO Sleepout in 2016. We were trying to raise money for homelessness. I had not been down to the city much.

I just went along with my sleeping bag and the piece of cardboard that they gave me. Interestingly, the professional protesters came along and started beating on drums, yelling, screaming and actually causing havoc. It was actually very confronting for me. I had my son with me, I had the member for Caulfield with me and I had the member for Kew with me.

We all camped out together. We had the Governor there as well. She had to be removed because it got so dangerous. The police I felt really sorry for, because there were only 15 on duty that night in the city—it was a Friday night—and only four of them were able to be brought down to us. But because they had no move-on laws, as the member for Caulfield pointed out in his presentation, they could do nothing. So they stood there—four guys standing there.

I was laying down. I had people kicking me. They said to me, ‘I bet you’re ashamed of yourself. I bet your children are ashamed of you because you’re a big CEO’. They did not even know. I said, ‘Well, there’s my son over there. Go and ask him’. They were just really horrible, and there was nothing the police could do. It really opened my eyes to the fact that the people who keep us safe, the police women and men, have got to be given the tools to do that job or they just get frustrated and they get disheartened.

I feel today that this law is doing that again. It is idealistic in that we want to get rid of drunkenness on the streets, but what do we do? What is the alternative? Where are the sobering up centres? Who is going to cart people to them? Who is going to supervise them? Usually in accident and emergency when you have got someone who has drunk so much you actually have to do some removing of the contents of the gut so that it does not absorb into the bloodstream further.

So you need a health response, you need tools, and you need the police and the families working together. I get the fact that we all want to work together to remove public drunkenness. That is fair, but do not put the cart before the horse.

You need to have the sobering-up centres like other states, to have the move-on laws, to give the tools to the professionals who you are asking to deal with this. Do not cause what I saw happen in 2016, when those police were getting abused by people because they were doing nothing.

They just stood there, and I could see the frustration on their faces. It was at that moment that I realised we ask a lot from our police but unless we give them the tools and the resources to actually do their role, all we are doing is getting frustrated men and women who want to look after the community but simply cannot because we are letting them down in a legislative sense.

That is exactly what I am seeing here with this piece of legislation, which has no solution associated with it. It is just decriminalising drunkenness. At the end of the day I do not think the mums and the dads whose children need to be supported by the professionals when they are that drunk will be grateful if we do not give them another alternative.

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