Image of entrance of a public housing tower in Melbourne

Published on Friday 17, July 2020

Message to our community

Your community lawyers at Inner Melbourne Community Legal want to let you know that we have heard and witnessed how hard the last thirteen days have been for you. There has been a lot of fear, uncertainty and hardship. But there has also been even more strength, resilience and courage. 

We were shocked and appalled at the heavy-handed response that the Victorian government adopted to locking down the towers. This is a public health crisis that we all face, but you were not given the trust and respect to respond as equal partners. 

Since Saturday 4 July we have done our very best to listen to you and the incredible community organisations and volunteers that support you. This includes the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency, the Ubuntu Project, SE Mutual Aid, RISE, Voices from the Blocks and the scores of community interpreters that worked around the clock to translate material, among many other individuals and groups.  As soon as the lockdown was announced, we asked you and those around you about the problems you were experiencing, and what help you needed. We set up 24/7 helplines to connect with you, and had lawyers at your address to monitor what was happening and work quickly to try to respond to your needs.  Despite our efforts, we know you didn’t all receive the things you needed, or the treatment you deserved.

Behind the scenes we worked with other legal experts to assess the lawfulness of all the government orders made from the very start, and demand access to basic rights like medical care, fresh air and a response that met the needs of individuals and families. When these demands were not met, we called for independent investigations and inquiries. 

While there is a lot more to do, we welcome the Victorian Ombudsman’s announcement today of an urgent investigation into the government’s detention of public housing tower residents at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne. The investigation will review the way you were detained, the communication failures and the restriction on your access to fresh air, exercise and medical supplies. It will also consider whether decisions made that restricted your liberty were compatible with your human rights. 

We will continue to work with you to ensure your voice and experience guides the Ombudsman’s work, to ensure government is held accountable and these mistakes are never repeated. 

We will update you on the progress of the investigation. Until then, as always, you can speak with a member of our team for free, independent legal advice by calling 9328 1885 (9 – 5, Mon to Fri), or call or text 0436 108 871 for urgent matters (which will be monitored regularly out of hours).

The strength, resilience and care you have shown for each other makes us so pleased to be part of your community.