In her report tabled to the Victorian Parliament on Thursday, Ms Glass urged the state government to apologise to residents for the impact the immediate detention had on their health and wellbeing while the rest of the state had the chance to prepare for restrictions.
“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.”
In its response, the state government said it did not agree the detention may have breached the law or human rights.
In its response to the investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services said it took steps to ensure the provision of food, relief, daily essentials, social and wellbeing supports and laundry services to residents.
“The conditions at 33 Alfred Street came nowhere near the treatment that has constituted a breach of the right to humane treatment in any other case as recognised over the course of many decades in Victoria or around the world,” it said.
“[The] isolation, detention and testing of the residents was an appropriate course of action that properly balanced the rights under the Charter, including the right to life and the public health risks involved in the localised public health emergency.”
The investigation found a temporary lockdown was warranted and did successfully contain the outbreak but that its immediacy was not based on 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.”
Fifty-three cases were identified at 33 Alfred Street after five days, about 11 per cent of all residents in the tower.
There were no cases at two of the other towers, at 9 Pampas Street and 159 Melrose Street.
Ms Glass said she was not criticising the hard work of Victorian health officials who were responding to a 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.
The investigation heard that Victoria’s acting chief health officer at the time, who had not advised an immediate lockdown, had 15 minutes before the press conference to consider and sign the directions.
Senior health officials had agreed on the morning of July 4 that the towers should be locked down, anticipating it would start the next day to allow for food supplies and logistics to be arranged, the investigation found.
Ms Glass said the immediacy of the lockdown appeared to be traceable to a crisis council of cabinet meeting at 1.45pm that afternoon.
Cabinet documents are confidential and the Ombudsman’s request for them were denied.
More to come.
Rachel is a city reporter for The Age.