MEDIA RELEASE 30 November 2020 

VALS Supports a Health Response to Public Intoxication, with Limited Police Involvement and Robust Safeguards 

VALS acknowledges the tireless advocacy of Tanya Day’s family, and shares their concerns that police involvement in a health response to public drunkenness comes with a risk of discriminatory policing of Aboriginal people. If, under the health model being developed, police are to be first responders and are granted powers to detain intoxicated people, VALS recommends that accompanying legislation incorporates the Expert Reference Group’s (ERG) recommendations in relation to strict limits on police powers and robust safeguards.

VALS endorses the vast majority of the recommendations in the ERG’s report, Seeing the Clear Light of Day, while identifying opportunities to further strengthen the proposed safeguards and further limit the proposed police and Protective Services Officer (PSO) powers under the health-based response. VALS is of the firm view that PSOs should not have powers to detain people, including those who are intoxicated in public, nor should they be permitted to carry weapons. VALS also recommends that the legislative framework of the public health model prohibits treatment of detained people and detention conditions that amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It is essential that there is culturally appropriate, independent detention oversight, including by the detention oversight bodies that will be established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. This safeguard must come into play from the moment someone is detained by police or another first responder.

VALS looks forward to the Government’s response to the ERG’s report, and to it conducting further consultations with Tanya Day’s family, the Aboriginal community and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. Particularly, VALS notes that the Government’s recently released Budget provided for “$16 million to kickstart the new model”, and expects future Budgets to provide the necessary funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to evaluate the cultural appropriateness of the implementation morrock casino and operation of the public drunkenness reforms, as was recommended by the ERG.

 

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“With next year’s 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody, implementation of its recommendation to decriminalise public drunkenness is long overdue. In response to Tanya Day’s tragic and preventable death, and the tireless advocacy of her family, the Government has taken positive steps towards implementing a health-based response to public drunkenness.”

Our people are disproportionately impacted by policing of public intoxication, and it is crucial to involve those whose loved ones have died in custody and the broader Aboriginal community in these important reforms. As we move forward, VALS strongly encourages the Government to minimise the involvement of police in this model, to ensure that there are robust safeguards in place, and to engage the Victorian Aboriginal community in developing the model and assessing its implementation.”

 

End

 

Contact: Andreea Lachsz; alachsz@vals.org.au 

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.