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Tanya Day’s family awarded Tim McCoy prize

Tanya Day’s family awarded Tim McCoy prize

By Karin Derkley

Discrimination Human Rights 


The family of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, who died after she was arrested for being drunk in a public place, has won the Tim McCoy Award for their efforts to change Victoria’s public drunkenness laws and create community health alternatives to incarceration.

Tanya Day's children Belinda, Warren, Apryl and Kimberly Day were nominated by the Human Rights Law Centre for their “powerful and tireless” advocacy.

As a result of the Day family’s advocacy, including a petition that collected 15,000 signatures, the Victorian government announced it will abolish the offence of public drunkenness and replace it with an Aboriginal-led, public health response.

Abolishing the offence of public drunkenness was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which reported in 1991.

431 Aboriginal people have died in police custody since then.

HRLC legal director Ruth Barson says the Day family are deserving winners of the prize. The abolishing of the offence of public drunkenness was a direct result of their efforts, she said.

“The Day family’s advocacy has not stopped there. They have asked the coroner to consider the role that systemic racism played in their mum’s death, repeatedly called for police to stop investigating police and have continued to demand justice and accountability at each and every turn of the process.”

Ms Day was arrested after being found asleep on a train and detained in a police cell at Castlemaine police station. She died after sustaining a serious head injury hitting her head on a concrete wall of the cell. She had not been checked on as required.

An inquest into Ms Day's death has been running since late August, with representatives from Victoria Police, V/Line and Ambulance Victoria attending.

Members of the Day family have attended each day of the coronial inquest. They have called for criminal investigation of police officers, and called on the coroner to find that systemic racism and unconscious bias was a cause of their mother’s death in custody. They have also called for independent investigations into police-contact deaths.

The family has made numerous media appearances and participated in many public events, including leading marches as part of NAIDOC week and appearing at an event held at the Wheeler Centre in June 2019 on Public Drunkenness Reform in Victoria.

On the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Day family helped organise and lead a memorial at the Stolen Generations marker in Fitzroy to pay respect to the 431 Aboriginal people who have died in police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its recommendations.

While the Day family welcomed news that the offence of public drunkenness would be abolished, this was “tinged with grief and sadness” Ms Barson said. “In the end, it took the death of their mother and their sustained advocacy efforts for the Victorian government to repeal laws that should have been abolished 30 years ago when the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody were released.”

The award was accepted on behalf of the family by HRLC executive director Hugh de Kretser at the Tim McCoy Annual Dinner held at the Richmond Town Hall on 10 November.

Tim McCoy was a larger-than-life legal activist who worked in a number of community legal centres during the 1980s. After he died suddenly in 1987, a trust and annual prize was established to recognise achievements by individuals or groups to promote and protect human rights and justice for socially and economically disadvantaged people and communities in Victoria.

Past award winners include Kids out of Barwon Legal Team, Consumer Action Law Centre and Nyadol Nyuon.

Photo: Charandev Singh

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