Tower lockdown breached human rights, Ombudsman finds

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The timing of the lockdown of North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers on July 4 was not based on direct health advice and violated Victorian human rights laws, an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman has found. 

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said her investigation found that senior health officials agreed on the morning of Saturday, July 4 that the towers should be locked down to control a COVID-19 outbreak, anticipating a next-day start to allow planning for food supplies and other logistics. But at a media conference at 4pm the Premier announced the lockdown, starting immediately.

Ms Glass said the investigation found the immediate start appeared traceable to a Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting at 1.45pm that afternoon. The Ombudsman’s request for documents from the Cabinet meeting, which are subject to privilege, was denied.

She has recommended the Victorian Government apologise to the tower residents, acknowledging the impact of their immediate detention on their health and wellbeing.

"Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon," Ms Glass said.

"We heard that initially there was chaos. Some people were without food and medicines. At the tower at 33 Alfred St, the focus of the investigation, residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air.”

"Since March, restrictions on movement both broad and specific have been issued many times in Victoria, but never before or since without warning," Ms Glass said.

Ms Glass said the lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers after five days, but residents at 33 Alfred St, where infection rates were highest, were detained for another nine days.

The investigation found a temporary lockdown was warranted and successfully contained the outbreak, but that its immediacy was not based on direct public health advice.

"The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents' human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty. In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law."

Ms Glass said her findings were not a criticism of Victorian health officials, who worked tirelessly to support residents and respond to the public health emergency.

"But proper consideration of human rights before the lockdown began would have put health, not security, front and centre," 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 investigation heard Victoria's Acting Chief Health Officer had some 15 minutes prior to the July 4 media conference to consider and sign directions for the lockdown, including the potential human rights impacts, and that the immediacy of the lockdown was not on her advice. 

Ms Glass said the Victorian Government did not agree that the detention may have been contrary to law or that any human rights were breached; its response is included in the report.

The Ombudsman's report of the Investigation into the detention and treatment of public housing residents arising from a COVID-19 'hard lockdown' in July 2020 was tabled in the Victorian Parliament today.

Media contact Jayne Dullard 0405 229 682

A summary of the report is available in the following languages:

አሁን የአቤቱታ ሰሚ ሀላፊዋ በአድራሻ 33 Alfred Street, ኖርዝ መልበርን የመንግሥት መኖሪያ ቤት ፎቅ ላይ መዘጋት/lockdown ሐምሌ/July 2020 ዓ.ም ያላትን የማጣራት ሂደት አጠናቃለች። ለቀረበው አጭር መግለጫ ሪፖርት በአማርኛ በዚህ ድረገጽ: ላይ ማንበብ ይችላሉ። Amharic

أنهت الآن الأمبودسمان تحقيقها في قرار إغلاق برج الإسكان العام الكائن في 33 ألفرد ستريت، نورث ملبورن المتَّخذ في تموز/يوليو 2020. يمكنك قراءة ملخّص عن التقرير باللغة العربية على الموقع التالي: Arabic

监察专员现已完成对20207月期间北墨尔本区阿尔弗雷德街33号公房大厦实施强制禁闭措施的有关调查。阅读简体中文报告摘要可访问: Chinese Simplified

申訴專員現已完成對2020年7月北墨爾本Alfred Street 33號公共房屋大樓的封鎖的調查。您可以在以下網頁閱讀繁體中文的報告摘要: Chinese Traditional

The Ombudsman has now completed her investigation into the lockdown of the public housing tower at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne in July 2020. You can read a summary of the report in English here: English

Daba kan falmitu (Ombudsman) qorannoo ishee ulaan irratti cufamuu manneen dhedheeroo (towers) manooma ummataa bakka 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne baatii Adoolessaa bara 2020 keessa xumurte. Cuunfaa gabaasa kanaa afaan Oromo asii dubbisuu dandeessa: Oromo

Ombudsman tu waxay hadda dhammeystiray baaritaankeedii xiritaankan guryaha dhaadheeree dadweynaha ee 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne, Luulyo dhexdeeda 2020. Waxaad halkan ku akhrin kartaa soo warbixintii oo kooban oo Soomaali ah: Somali

ኣብዚ እዋን ናይ መርማሪ ጥርዓን ሓላፊት ኣብ ኣድራሻ 33 Alfred Street ኖርዝ መልበርን መንግሥቲ መንበሪ ገዛ ደርቢታት መንበሪ ገዛ ደርቢታት ምትዕጻው//lockdown ሓምለ/July 2020 ዓ.ም ንዝገበረቶ መርመራ ማጸርይ ከይዲ ከምዝወድኣት እያ። ነቲ ዝተዳለወ ሓጺር መግለጺ ሪፖርቲ ብትግርኛ ኣብዚ ድረገጺ: Tigrinya ክተንብቦ ትኽእል።

Giám đốc Thanh tra đã hoàn tất việc điều tra vấn đề phong tỏa tòa nhà chính phủ số 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne hồi tháng 7 năm 2020. Quý vị có thể đọc bản báo cáo tóm tắt bằng tiếng Việt tại đây: Vietnamese