Image of entrance of a public housing tower in Melbourne

Published on Thursday 17, December 2020

Ombudsman’s public housing report scathing of human rights violations, validating resident concerns

Quotes attributable to IMCL CEO, Damian Stock

Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) welcomes the release today of the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Australia’s harshest ever lockdown finding the lockdown was unlawful and the immediacy unsupported by public health advice.

IMCL calls on the Victorian Government to immediately issue an apology to the public housing residents whose human rights were found to be infringed.

The report validates the experience of residents and what we assisting them knew; that there was profound abuse of the most basic rights, including the right to know why detention is occurring, to access medication, food, fresh air and exercise.

Despite residents’ expressed concerns and against state and federal guidelines, we now know that the state landlord did not have an Outbreak Management Plan. We know that the public health experts planning the lockdown expected there would be time to engage the community and to prepare. And we know that the Crisis Council of Cabinet reversed that approach and sent Police first without any warning, causing chaos and trauma, alienating the community and damaging trust.

Serious questions remain as to why the lockdowns occurred without warning or preparation, contrary to public health advice and with only a cursory assessment of the human rights implications. We all deserve to know more.

We call on the government to lay bare these issues – to ask the hard questions that go to the heart of why public housing residents were treated differently from all other Victorians. We call for an inquiry with the broadest power – be that a judicial inquiry or royal commission – to explore the prejudice that pervades our society and is too often ignored.

The assumptions that underpinned the immediate and enforcement-first approach do not align with values we hold in Victoria. Public housing residents, like all of us, are entitled to and capable of participating in our community’s healthcare. Their resilience and subsequent coordination efforts by a wide range of mostly young people is testament to their civic responsibility and genuine community care and connection.

We recognise the efforts that the Department of Health and Human Services has taken to acknowledge the capacity of public housing residents and to start rebuilding relationships. We urge the Andrews government to accept the recommendations of this report. Only in making an immediate apology and providing further mechanisms for accountability will there be a chance for trust to be restored.

IMCL can provide media with authorised copies of submissions made by residents to the inquiry.

For further comment contact:

Damian Stock                    CEO                                                                                        0404 034 069

Nadia Morales                  Director – Strategy, Engagement & Projects                    0418 134 275