“Reprehensible”: Council endorses report findings on public housing lockdown

“Reprehensible”: Council endorses report findings on public housing lockdown
Spencer Fowler Steen

The City of Melbourne has endorsed a report recommending better planning and care be taken in the future if public health restrictions clash with human rights after last year’s snap lockdown of nine local public housing towers.

At the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on July 20, councillors outlined the lessons learnt from the Victorian Government’s hard lockdown of more than 3000 residents in North Melbourne and Flemington, which deprived them of appropriate food, fresh air and medicine.

Throughout the lockdown, the council played a role in establishing North Melbourne Community Centre as a control and distribution centre for food deliveries. It also provided on-site environmental health officers, waste services and parking and traffic management.

At the meeting, councillors acknowledged that an Incident Control Team needed to be established immediately following any future lockdown events with roles and duties being clearly defined.

According to the council, community members and organisations’ knowledge should be utilised to maximise positive outcomes while minimising any potential trauma the incident may cause.

And ordering and distributing food should factor in community knowledge to ensure cultural appropriateness, after many residents during last year’s lockdown were provided with food they could not eat.

Speaking at the meeting, Cr Rohan Leppert said the purpose of the report was to learn every lesson the council possibly could, and to share them with neighbouring municipalities and the state government.

“It was quite clear that the [Victorian] Government considered in its paternalistic wisdom that this was a special class of people, and through a race and class lens decided to make a  particular decision to lock down these towers without notice. I think that is reprehensible,” he said.

“Above all else, I want to thank our constituents, the residents of nine public housing towers for their perseverance and for dealing with this situation with as much good grace and humour as they could.”

Cr Olivia Ball echoed the sentiment, and said an apology was owing from the state government.

“We shouldn’t overlook the importance of symbolic reparations such as an apology. If rights have been breached, as has been found by the independent and very esteemed [Victorian] Ombudsman, then an apology is owing,” she said.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has found the public housing lockdown violated the human rights of residents, and recently expressed disappointment that the government had not apologised.

The state government has told North West City News that it couldn’t comment because the matter was currently before the courts •

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