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the hard lock Forcing thousands of residents into Melbourne’s public housing towers during the state’s second wave violated human rights laws, the Victoria Ombudsman found.
the investigation, directed by Ombudsman Deborah Glass on treating public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington, found that the immediacy of the July 4 shutdown was not based on direct health advice and violated human rights.

However, a temporary lockdown was warranted to contain the growing coronavirus outbreak.

A lonely woman is seen staring out the window of her apartment in North Melbourne’s public housing flats. (Getty)

“The hasty confinement was not compatible with the human rights of the residents, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” Ms. Glass said.

“In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be against the law.”

The Victorian government at the time defended its actions by locking up to 3,000 residents in nine towers inside their apartments without warning, on the grounds that it was necessary to eradicate the growing outbreak of COVID-19.
The high-density towers were described by authorities as “vertical cruises”, prone to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Residents were surprised by the closure by the Victorian government of nine public housing towers in Melbourne. (9News)
A sign taped to the window reads ‘Flemington Penitentiary’ is seen on the Flemington public housing floors on July 5, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Getty)

The investigation found that senior officials agreed on the morning of July 4 that the towers should be closed to control the coronavirus outbreak, with a start the next day anticipated to allow for planning of food supplies and other logistics.

However, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced at a press conference at 4 pm that the lockdown would begin immediately.

The immediate start seemed attributable to a meeting of the Crisis Cabinet Council at 1:45 p.m. that afternoon.

The Victorian government rejected the Ombudsman’s request for documents, which are subject to privilege, from the cabinet meeting.

Glass recommended that the government apologize to the residents of the tower, acknowledging the impact the immediate arrest had on their health and well-being.

“This apology would mark an important step in restoring community trust and a stronger commitment to protecting human rights,” he said.

Medical personnel in PPE in Melbourne’s public housing towers. (Asanka Ratnayake / Getty Images)
Residents of Melbourne's closed public housing towers say they need to know what's going on.
Residents of Melbourne’s closed public housing towers said they needed to know what was happening. (Getty)

“Many residents were unaware of the closure or the reason for it when a large number of police officers showed up on their property that afternoon,” Ms. Glass said.

“We heard that initially there was chaos. Some people were without food or medicine.

“In the tower at 33 Alfred St, the focus of the investigation, residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision to get fresh air.”

Victoria Ombudsman Deborah Glass says the immediacy of the strict closure of the public housing towers was “illegal.” (Nine)

The heavy presence of police and government officials was “deeply traumatizing” for some of the tower’s residents, Ms. Glass said.

“Many of these people came from deeply troubled and war-torn environments … where they had been tortured at the hands of their states,” he said.

Glass said movement restrictions had never before been issued in Victoria without notice.

The blockade was lifted on eight of the nine towers after five days, but residents at 33 Alfred Street, where infection rates were the highest, were detained for another nine days.

Victoria Police officers on patrol near Melbourne's public housing towers.
Victoria Police officers on patrol near Melbourne’s public housing towers. (Getty)

Glass said her findings were not a criticism of Victoria’s health officials.

“But proper consideration of human rights before the shutdown began would have put health, not safety, front and center,” Ms Glass said.

“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.”

The inquiry heard that Victoria’s acting health director, Dr. Annaliese van Diemen, had just 15 minutes before the press conference to consider and sign instructions for the shutdown, including potential human rights impacts.

The immediacy of the shutdown was not his advice, according to the report.

The Victorian government did not agree that the detention could have been against the law or that human rights were violated.

The prime minister reiterated today that the arrest was based on public health advice, although admitting that the confinement was a “very challenging moment.”

Nine public housing towers were compulsorily closed. (Getty)

“We were in the room and we had to make a very difficult decision, we made it and it saved lives,” Andrews said.

“All the decisions made in this pandemic have been made on the basis of public health advice.”

However, Ms. Glass cautioned that human rights should not be considered “dispensable” for the purpose of saving lives.

“This thinking can lead to dangerous territory,” he said.

“In a just society, human rights provide the framework for how we will and will be treated as the crisis unfolds.”


www.9news.com.au

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