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Public drunkenness in Ballarat has plummetted over the last decade, but concerns remain

February 9, 2023 7:30 am in by
Image: Pixabay

There’s been a massive drop in the number of public drunkenness offences in Ballarat, but our region’s not quite off the hook.

Figures show there were just 58 incidents last year compared to 252 in 2013.

And while that’s a 77% drop over nine years, the region is still second in Victoria for incidents.

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Drops were recorded in every Victorian municipality over the study period, with the exception of Wellington Shire where the number climbed from 55 in 2013 to 59 last year, and Pyrenees Shire and the Borough of Queenscliffe which both recorded two offences in both 2013 and 2022.

The act of being drunk in public has proved to be a complex issue over the time period.

In 2019 the Victorian Government announced it would be decriminalising public drunkenness in response to the death of an Aboriginal woman in custody after she had been apprehended travelling drunk on a train.

At the time our state was one of the last aside from Queensland to still register public drunkenness as a crime.

In its place, it was decided a health-based model to promote therapeutic and culturally appropriate ways to assist alcohol-affected people in public places would be used.

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The law change was a long time coming after an incident at Ballarat Police Station four years prior first prompted calls for a review into the public drunkenness laws.

Victoria’s anti-corruption commission in 2016 recommended the Victorian government should consider decriminalising public drunkenness after an off-duty police officer was taken into custody by Ballarat Police for being drunk in public in 2015.

The officer was subsequently pepper-sprayed, had her legs stood on, and her trousers, socks and underwear removed by a male constable while she was face-down and handcuffed on her cell floor near a pool of pepper spray.

It was the Ibac’s view at the time of the Ballarat incident that public drunkenness be treated as a public health and welfare concern.

The statewide drop in the latest figures is being attributed in part to offenders being placed into the care of family and friends rather than ‘drunk tanks’ – one of the key functions behind the state government’s evolving decisions around decriminalising the offence.

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From November paramedics and outreach workers will transport people affected by alcohol to special sobering up centres, with police only becoming involved if the person commits an offence.

However, both the Paramedics Union and the Police Association say the changes could put untrained workers at risk.

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