Public drunkenness law reform too little too late for Day family

By Ivy Jensen

THE Victorian Government’s announcement to decriminalise public drunkenness is a bittersweet win for the family of Echuca woman Tanya Day.

Because if the law was abolished when the royal commission had recommended it almost 30 years ago, the proud Yorta Yorta woman would still be alive.

“It’s a bit of a slap in the face,” Tanya’s son Warren Stevens told the Riv.

“It cost Mum her life.”

The announcement of the law reform comes on the eve of a coronial inquest into the death of Ms Day which starts on Monday, August 26, in Melbourne.

The 55-year-old grandmother died of traumatic brain injuries after she was arrested for public drunkenness on a train at Castlemaine and placed in the police cells in 2017.

According to her family, no-one entered Ms Day’s cell to check on her for about four hours — in contravention of protocol.

CCTV shows Ms Day hit her head in the cell on five occasions and when she was finally taken to Bendigo hospital, doctors discovered she had suffered a large bleed to the brain.

She died 17 days later at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

"Our beautiful, loving and proud mother was taken from us because police targeted her for public drunkenness," Mr Stevens said.

Ms Day’s family says systemic racism played a role in her death.

“If it had have been a white woman, she would have received better treatment,” Mr Stevens said.

“What happened to Mum shouldn’t happen to anyone. She should have been medically assessed before being placed in the cells and she should have been checked regularly.

“This should never have happened.”

Sadly, it’s not the first time this has happened to the Day family.

Tanya’s uncle, Harrison Day, a skilled drover and horseman, died in custody in 1982 from an epileptic seizure in an Echuca police cell, after he was arrested for an unpaid $10 fine for public drunkenness.

And while the family welcomed the abolition of the outdated law, it is too little too late for them.

“Mum would still be alive if this law was abolished back when the recommendation came out,” Mr Stevens said.

“We have been fighting for this law reform since her death so it’s good to see the government committing to abolishing it.

“It’s a win for all Victorians, not just black people.”

Indigenous people have been the most vulnerable group of people targeted by arrests under public drunkenness laws and abolishing it was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.

Ms Day's family said they had long fought for change and is urging the government to act quickly to abolish the law.

Victoria's Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the law reform would be implemented over the next few months.