Politics

Melbourne Public Housing Lockdowns Violated Human Rights But The Government Won’t Even Say Sorry

Despite leaving some tenants without food or medicine for days, the government still won't say sorry.

public housing victoria

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The Victorian government has refused to apologise for breaching the human rights of 3000-plus public housing residents in nine towers it locked up with minutes’ notice during the Melbourne’s second COVID-19 wave.

Housing Minister Richard Wynne made the comments following the release of the Victorian Ombudsman’s damning report, which found that the lockdowns breached human rights regulations.

“We make no apology for saving people’s lives. Absolutely no apology for saving people’s lives,” he said. “The primary objective of government is to protect the community. In this context, protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our community who live in those public housing towers is my responsibility as a minister, but also the government’s responsibility as well.”

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the state government should apologise for depriving the residents of liberty and treating them inhumanely.

“The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” she said. “In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law.”

Glass also found that the treatment of the residents was degrading, and that 12 people attempted suicide during the lockdowns.

The rationale for the immediate lockdown appeared to be counter to medical advice, despite there being an agreed need for it at some stage. It may have been based on poor stereotypes of the tower residents, too.

Glass said that the lockdown would not have occurred in the same way to richer Melburnians.

“Documents relating to the lockdown asserted there were security concerns, suggesting the towers were a hotbed of criminality and non-compliance,” she said. “But the evidence was the vast majority were law-abiding people, just like other Australians.

“It is unimaginable that such stereotypical assumptions, leading to the ‘theatre of policing’ that followed, would have accompanied the response to an outbreak of COVID-19 in a luxury apartment block.”

The residents are mostly low income, immigrant families, some of which are refugees who have fled state violence.

Glass also included case studies of residents who waited days for access to vital medicine and food. The government, at some stages, also refused to deliver supplies donated by the surrounding community.