‘Racist’ law on public drinking in Yarra to stay

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

'Racist' law on public drinking in Yarra to stay - The Reports

Yarra Council have approved an extension to bylaws that regulate public drinking.Credit:Joe Armao

The bylaw that bans drinking alcohol in public, with the exception of 121 designated areas, was set to expire on October 19.

Councillors Stephen Jolly and Bridgid O’Brien had argued that the bylaw was redundant given there had been only eight infringements recorded since it was introduced 10 years ago.

However, Inspector Ann Rudd, speaking for Victoria Police, said the bylaw was an important tool for police, who used it on a daily basis.

“My officers use it very, very regularly in the form of discretion … Our approach is to educate, to tip out [alcohol] and to get treatment and referrals,” she said.

Inspector Rudd said if the law was scrapped, crimes associated with anti-social behaviour would rise.

But the councillors also heard from representatives of the Indigenous community, who said the laws exposed Aboriginal Australians to custody, trauma and displacement.

Social worker Teddy Chessels talked passionately about how a “simple drinking charge” under the local law could lead to more serious criminal charges for Aboriginal people.

“If you have a young police man telling an old person [Aboriginal elder] what to do, it just doesn’t really work … They get the old trifecta – drunk and disorderly, resisting arrest, assaulting police,” said Mr Chessels, a Gamilarai and Gunditjmara man.

“Horrible things happen to our people in custody.”

'Racist' law on public drinking in Yarra to stay - The Reports

Darren Lovett, manager of family counselling services with VIctorian Aboriginal Health Service, and Yarra Councillor  Bridgid O’Brien.Credit:Joe Armao

Darren Lovett from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service said the local laws should follow the lead of the state government in decriminalising public drunkenness.

“We do not need a justice-based response, we need a health-based response,” Mr Lovett said.

Activist and author Uncle Jack Charles called on the council to establish a building dedicated to hosting social events, workshops and discussions for the Aboriginal community.

“The Collingwood Centre for Indigenous Excellence, it could be called,” he said.

Councillor Min-Lin Chen Yi Mei proposed a two-year extension of the bylaw to gather further data on exactly how the law was used and to consult more broadly with the Indigenous community.

But Cr O’Brien said the council had already assembled an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory board and their advice had been ignored.

“I find it problematic that we don’t listen to those important voices,” she said.

“I think it is an unacceptable burden to put them into contact with police for relatively minor offences.”

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