Melbourne public housing Covid lockdown violated human rights, Victoria’s ombudsman finds | Melbourne

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The timing of the lockdown of Melbourne public housing towers in July violated human rights laws, Victoria’s ombudsman has found.

The hard lockdowns – which saw nine public housing towers surrounded by police on 4 July and more than 3,000 residents confined to their flats for five days – has been the subject of an investigation by the ombudsman, Deborah Glass.

The lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers after five days but residents at 33 Alfred Street had to complete a full 14 days of hard lockdown.

While Glass’s investigation found that the lockdowns had been warranted to protect residents from the rapid spread of Covid-19, she said the immediate start to the detention had not been based on medical advice and had breached human rights rules.

“Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon,” Glass said.

“We heard that initially there was chaos. Some people were without food and medicines. At the tower at 33 Alfred St, the focus of the investigation, residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air.”

Glass said her investigation found that senior health officials had agreed on the morning of Saturday 4 July that the towers should be locked down. But they expected this to begin the next morning to allow planning time for food supplies, medical services and other logistics.

But at a media conference that afternoon, the premier, Daniel Andrews, announced a number of cases in the towers and said the lockdown would begin immediately.

The ombudsman’s investigations linked this decision back to a crisis council of cabinet meeting at 1.45pm that day.

A spokesperson for the Ombudsman’s office said a request “for documents from the cabinet meeting, which are subject to privilege, was denied”.

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

Her report recommended that the Victorian government apologise to the tower residents and acknowledge “the impact of their immediate detention on their health and wellbeing”.

Glass’s investigation also found that Victoria’s acting chief health officer, Annaliese van Diemen, had just 15 minutes to consider and sign directions for the lockdown, before the afternoon press conference. This included analysing the potential human rights impacts. Glass said the immediacy of the lockdown was not on Van Diemen’s advice.

The ombudsman’s report, Investigation into the detention and treatment of public housing residents arising from a COVID-19 ‘hard lockdown’ in July 2020, was tabled in Victoria’s parliament on Thursday.

The public housing towers are occupied by low-income, majority immigrant families, many of whom told Guardian Australia that seeing armed police swarming around their homes was traumatic, especially for many of them who fled countries where human rights abuses were commonplace.

In the first 48 hours of the lockdown, there were serious problems with the delivery of food, with videos circulating of residents sorting through piles of expired food, and pork and other culturally inappropriate food being delivered to Muslim families.

Some residents told Guardian Australia they were so fearful of police and health department workers that they did not wish to eat the food in case it was poisoned.

Glass said a delayed start to the lockdown would have helped to prevent these kinds of fears.

“Proper consideration of human rights before the lockdown began would have put health, not security, front and centre. In a just society, human rights are not a convention to be ignored during a crisis, but a framework for how we will treat and be treated as the crisis unfolds.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Melbourne public housing Covid lockdown violated human rights, Victoria’s ombudsman finds | Melbourne

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