On July 4, when Premier Daniel Andrews ordered the immediate lockdown of 3000 people in nine inner-suburban public housing towers, he said public health advice buttressed the move. It was an unprecedented and extraordinarily austere response, one that the Premier said was necessary to curb an outbreak of coronavirus within at least some of the crowded housing blocks.
It may have been necessary, but the lockdown certainly was not well planned or well executed. Now Victoria’s Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, has found that the haste in imposing it led to breaches of the residents’ human rights. After visiting the towers during the lockdown, Ms Glass launched her own investigation into what propelled the decision and how the lockdown was managed.
In her report, she noted information at the public housing sites was “confused, incomprehensible or simply lacking”. Not only did residents not have material in their own languages about the lockdown, but many did not have sufficient or appropriate food, medication, access to fresh air or opportunity for exercise.
That this happened in our city is appalling. Certainly, these were crisis times and lives were at stake, but the excessive haste in shutting down the towers meant there was poor logistical preparation along with inadequate consideration of the profound impacts on the residents. In short, Ms Glass believes the restrictions were not “justified and reasonable”, two critical elements of good and sound law. Nor were they compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.