Victoria is set to decriminalise public drunkenness, a move long overdue. This change, happening more than 30 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody called for abolishing the offence, aims to address its disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities.

Unlike other Australian states that have decriminalised public drunkenness, Victoria is not replacing the offence with new police powers. Instead, they are rolling out a “health-based response,” a significant departure from the norm.

The new approach treats public intoxication as a health issue rather than a crime. Outreach teams, composed of nurses and alcohol and drug workers, will be patrolling the streets, assisting intoxicated individuals. Their services include helping people contact their friends or family, providing food and water, charging phones, arranging transport home, and offering taxi or Uber vouchers.

In cases where individuals decline assistance and are not presenting a risk to themselves or others, they can be left alone. Those in need of more acute care can be taken to a sobering-up facility.

A 24/7 phone service, managed by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, will handle calls for help and dispatch outreach teams.

The community health organization Cohealth is heavily involved in this initiative, with outreach vans and a sobering-up facility. They have introduced pink polos for staff to distinguish them from traditional emergency services, focusing on providing a safe and compassionate environment.

Aboriginal outreach services will be provided by Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation, offering support and transportation to a dedicated sobering-up centre in St Kilda.


The reform, initially set to take effect in November 2022 but delayed by a year, will start on Melbourne Cup Day, one of the busiest days for drinking and celebration in Victoria. Despite the challenges, the state is prepared for the change, ensuring that individuals struggling with intoxication receive appropriate support and care.

This shift in approach reflects a recognition of the importance of prioritizing the health and well-being of individuals rather than criminalizing public intoxication.

Is it a positive step towards a more compassionate and effective response to a common issue in society?