Liberty Victoria welcomes today’s Ombudsman’s Report into the public housing ‘hard lockdown’ in July of this year.
As the Ombudsman said in her report, “[i]n 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.”
Any restrictions of human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic have to be proportionate and based on sound health advice. It seems that the decision to lock down the towers immediately was rushed and not based on any public health advice. It appears that the Deputy CHO was given less than 20 minutes to review a human rights assessment and sign the proposed directions. The Deputy Chief Health Officer told the investigation that she was not convinced that delaying the lockdown by a day would have made a “’hugely significant’ difference to containing the outbreak”.
The rushed decision-making meant that there was a lack of consultation with community leaders of the towers, which is particularly concerning to Liberty Victoria. From the Ombudsman’s Report, it also seems that unwarranted stereotyping of the residents played a role in how the lockdown was implemented with the immediate deployment of Victoria Police to the public housing towers. Many of the residents of the towers have experienced civil war and lived under dictatorships — their voices in the report make clear that the way in which the lockdown was implemented was traumatic, distressing and demeaning.
Liberty Victoria is particularly concerned about the Ombudsman’s findings that the rushed nature of the lockdown meant that some residents were left without food and medication and had a lack of access to fresh air.
Liberty Victoria acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has meant that the Government has had to make tough decisions in difficult circumstances. However, a proper consideration of human rights needs to play a central role in such decision-making.
As submitted to the Ombudsman, when she was investigating, Liberty Victoria does not accept that these measures would have been imposed, without warning or consultation, on other more privileged communities in Victoria.
Liberty Victoria commends the recommendations made by the Ombudsman, including her call for a public apology for the distress that was caused to public housing residents by the imposition of the immediate lockdown. We also call on the Government to adopt the recommendations made to amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic) to allow a person to apply to the Chief Health Officer and VCAT for a review of a decision to detain them, as well as including a requirement that clear and prompt information be provided to persons being detained about the purpose of their detention, how to seek relevant exemptions and their rights of complaint and review.
For enquiries contact Julia Kretzenbacher, President of Liberty Victoria at
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 9670 6422