Decriminalisation of Public Offences

Law reform submission to the parliamentary committee

Bridget Burton and Keryn Ruska
Bridget Burton (Caxton Legal Centre) and Keryn Ruska (IUIH) appeared at the parliamentary committee on the decriminalisation of public drunkenness and other offences

Caxton has joined with the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health Ltd (IUIH) to make a submission to the Queensland Parliamentary Community Support and Services Committee supporting the decriminalisation of public drunkenness, begging and other similar offences.

IUIH is a not-for-profit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health service, which leads the planning, development and delivery of comprehensive primary health care and social support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the South East Queensland region.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended decriminalising public drunkenness and other public-order offences over 30 years ago, and Queensland is the last state in Australia to take this step, which will save lives and provide practical protection to a number of fundamental human rights. Policing practices mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are vastly overrepresented in charges for these, and other, summary offences.

These laws regulate health and welfare issues, and criminalisation presents another barrier to accessing healthcare and social support. In Queensland, highly effective community-based preventative and responsive programs and policies already exist and could be more widely implemented. The structures and systems are already in place to support a therapeutic rather than a police-led response. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, community control is the key to successful service delivery.

We remain concerned about other laws regulating public space and would support further reform work beyond this important amendment. In particular, the offence of public nuisance is too broad and its selective enforcement is troubling in practice. If you have been charged with a summary offence and need advice, Caxton provides free criminal law advice to eligible clients about public nuisance and similar charges. You can book an appointment with us by calling 3214 6333. If you have an appointment, we ask you to bring a copy of your QP9/Bench Charge Sheet or the Infringement Notice with you when you attend.