Tower actions slammed
The Victorian Ombudsman says the State Government breached human rights laws in some COVID-19 lockdowns.
An ombudsmen’s inquiry has been held into the lockdown of nine public housing towers in inner Melbourne after a COVID-19 outbreak in early July.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass has tabled a report in State Parliament that says health officials agreed to the need for a lockdown on July 4, to start the following day.
However, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown of the towers in North Melbourne and Flemington would begin at 4:00pm on July 4.
This left the chief health officer with just 15 minutes before the press conference to consider the issues and sign the directions for the lockdown, Ms Glass said.
The temporary lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers within five days. The inquiry found that it was warranted, but said the timing was not based on direct public health advice.
“In my opinion… the action appeared to be contrary to the law,” Ms Glass said.
“The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents' human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty.”
Ms Glass said the Government should apologise for the “harm and distress caused by the immediacy of their lockdown”.
“Many of these people came from war-torn and deeply troubled backgrounds. There are many refugees living in those towers,” she said.
“People who came from war-torn states where they had been tortured at the hands of their states.
“The site of police surrounding their buildings, government officials knocking at the door unexpected, was deeply traumatising, I think, for some of the people we spoke to.”
Ms Glass said she had no criticisms of the public health officials who responded to the crisis, saying “many went above and beyond to support the residents”.
Her problem is with the immediacy of the lockdown, which risked the “health and wellbeing” of people in the towers.
“Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon,” she said.
“Some people were without food and medicines.
“At the tower at 33 Alfred Street … residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision to get fresh air.
“In a just society, human rights are not a convention to be ignored during a crisis.”
The State Government rejects the finding of illegality, saying it had no option but to act quickly.
Ms Glass said that no lockdown has been put in place without warning after the issue with the towers.