Ombudsman announces investigation into treatment of public housing tenants in lockdown

Date posted:

Ombudsman Deborah Glass has begun investigating the treatment of public housing residents at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for nearly a fortnight.

Ms Glass said her investigation was responding to residents’ and their advocates’ immediate concerns, emphasising the need for access to medical supplies, fresh air, exercise, or other everyday needs. She said it was also exploring the broader issue of how to protect people’s human rights when they are detained in lockdown.

“I recognise this is an unprecedented global health emergency and governments must act swiftly to protect human lives,” Ms Glass said.

“People on the front line are doing an extraordinary job to respond to this crisis and help keep us safe. However, there are lessons to be learnt in how governments can do that in a way that protects people’s human rights, including access to fresh air, exercise and medical supplies,” she said.

Ms Glass said to the extent possible, her investigation would be collaborative, and she would be seeking input from the residents, Department of Health and Human Services, the Emergency Management Team, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Community Legal Centres, community groups, and the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

“My aim is that together we can learn from what has occurred over the last fortnight, and help put in place improvements for the North Melbourne residents.

“If similar emergency situations occur in other public housing estates, we can use the learnings gained through this investigation to get better outcomes for anyone else who may be affected.”

Ms Glass said her investigation would consider:

  • the conditions under which people were, and continue to be, detained at 33 Alfred Street
  • the nature and accessibility of official communications with residents and advocates
  • the nature and appropriateness of restrictions upon people’s access to fresh air, exercise, medical care and medical supplies while detained
  • whether, in relation to the above, the Department of Health and Human Services and other relevant authorities have acted compatibly with, and given proper consideration to, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) .

She said her office had been contacted over the past fortnight by over 50 people: individuals and advocacy groups, public housing residents and other Victorians, and two of her investigators had been on site over the weekend and this week to monitor the situation. Among other things, public concerns have been expressed about:

  • whether the lockdown was discriminatory
  • an ‘overwhelming’ police presence
  • lack of communication with residents
  • lack of consultation with multicultural community leaders
  • access to culturally appropriate food and medical supplies, fresh air and exercise.

She encouraged any resident with concerns about their situation in lockdown who has not been able to resolve them through the DHHS hotline to contact her office:

Ms Glass said her office was seeking to resolve individual complaints as quickly as possible, and her investigation would be as fast as possible. She would provide public updates on progress when appropriate.

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