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Victoria Police crackdown on Australia Day

Australia Day has become the worst day for assaults, forcing Victoria Police to crackdown on drugs and drunken behaviour this weekend.

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Sniffer dogs will return to this year’s Big Day Out music festival in Melbourne as part of wider crackdown on drug-affected revellers.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp said patrols will be increased at the festival to be held at Flemington Racecourse this Saturday, Australia Day.

He said it formed part of a wider police blitz, aimed at slashing drug and alcohol-fuelled violence. Australia Day has become the worst public holiday for non-family violence assaults, new police figures show.

Last Australia Day 109 bashings were reported in Victoria, contributing to an average of 115 assaults on the holiday for the past five years.

This compares with an average of 70 reported bashings on a typical day in the same period.

Mr Crisp said warm weather, an over-indulgence in alcohol and illicit drug use combined with many young people coming together and displaying reckless behaviour are fuelling the high number of assaults.

He said the bulk of the offenders are young men aged between 18 and 24 who have grouped together for community celebrations, with most of the bashings happening after 5pm.

‘‘On a lot of occasions it’s young men, alcohol-fuelled, engaging in that behaviour where they basically see themselves as invincible,’’ Mr Crisp said. ‘‘They are prepared to take on other people. But the message is if you are out out with your mates and you fit within that age group, act responsibly. It’s a bit like having a designated driver.’’

Police will increase patrols at known trouble spots – Melbourne’s CBD, St Kilda, the Mornington Peninsula and other places where group celebrations are often held such as Lake Wendouree in Ballarat, as well as restaurant and entertainment precincts.

This includes the Big Day Out music festival, which has attracted more than 50,000 people in past years.

A total of 20 people were arrested for drug offences at last year’s festival, compared with 89 people the previous year.

Sniffer dogs at the Big Day Out have attracted controversy in past years. They were mysteriously withdrawn from the 2011 festival after Police Minister Peter Ryan reportedly said there were no drugs at the event.

Police didn’t not reveal why the operation was cancelled but emergency services confirmed paramedics treated several people for drug overdoses at the festival that year, and the sniffer dogs made a comeback in 2012.

‘‘Anyone that is attending that particular event, if you intend on bringing drugs to that event there is every chance that you will get caught,’’ Mr Crisp said. ‘‘Just don’t do it. Not just for your sake but for the sake of everyone else who attends the event.’’

Mr Crisp stressed there was nothing wrong with having a drink on Australia Day, just do it responsibly.

‘‘They are doing what they should be doing on Australia Day, getting out and catching up with friends and making the most of the weekend. But it’s important to keep this in perspective. There are 109 assaults when you look at the number of people across the state who go out and have a good time.’’

Mr Crisp reminded licensed venues of their responsibilities when it comes to serving alcohol.

Transit police will also patrol public transport hubs, while booze bus operations will run throughout the state catching those who drink and drive.

Police will also crack down on the use of illegal fireworks, with a focus on foreshore areas and parks where families gather.