Public housing residents file class action over towers lockdown

Public housing tower residents have filed a class action over the lockdown in Victoria, claiming they survived off ‘nuts and beans’. Read on

Picture: Flickr / David Jackmanson

Public housing tower residents shut inside their homes during Melbourne’s lockdown are suing the Victorian government claiming they were left without food and medication.

A claim was filed in the Victorian Supreme Court last week, alleging residents are owed damages for the “invalid”, “oppressive” and “degrading” lockdown that failed to consider human rights.

More than 3000 people were locked inside nine apartment towers from July 4 to either July 9 or July 18 last year, before the entire state went into hard lockdown on August 2.

The claim alleges lead plaintiff Idris Hassan and his family were supplied with “spoiled” food after being banned from buying groceries.

After being provided nothing for three days they were given four partially-defrosted sausage rolls, placed at the door step, that were “not fit for human consumption”, it alleges.

Ms Hassan and his nine-year-old son suffered asthma attacks after they ran out of medication, with the family surviving on “nuts and beans”, it alleges.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Dieman is named as the first respondent in the suit, along with Deputy Public Health Commander Finn Romanes, Chief Commissioner of Police Shane Patton, and the state of Victoria.

Residents were deprived of access to fresh air, exercise and occupational activities, it is claimed.

They were exposed to health risks as communal areas were not disinfected, and PPE was not provided, despite the presence of COVID-19 in the towers, it is alleged.

Government workers left bins overflowing and some residents lost their jobs after being unable to work during the lockdown, it is claimed.

The claim alleges they were “not consulted” about the lockdown, which banned them from leaving their homes without approval.

“Some time on 4 July 2020, prior to 3.30pm, (Victoria Police) decided to deploy hundreds of Victoria Police officers to the Estate Towers to enforce the detention of the residents of those towers,” the claim states.

It alleges Ms van Dieman had 15 minutes to review, sign, and consider the human rights implications of the lockdown before a press conference scheduled for 4pm on July 4.

It claims she “felt constrained” to approve the directions and “considered that she could not delay signing” before the press conference, which she appeared in alongside Premier Daniel Andrews.

“(She) allowed the decisions of third parties, or their actions and attitudes, to control the way she exercised her discretion,” the claim alleges.

The lockdown was not explained at the time to the residents of the towers, according to the claim.

“The decision not to inform the residents of these matters was not governed by questions of practicability, but was a deliberate decision made to ensure that the residents did not go elsewhere,” it alleges.

“Intimidating conduct” by Victoria Police officers also began “triggering pre-existing trauma” in some residents, the claim alleges.

The lead plaintiff, Mr Hassan, is a Somalian refugee who arrived in Australia after fleeing civil war.

He fled his village in 1990 when it was targeted by soldiers and made his way to Australia with his six siblings, making it to Australia in 1998.

At the time of the lockdown he lived in the public housing tower in Sutton Street, North Melbourne, with his wife and three children aged 9, 7 and 4.

About an hour after the lockdown began Mr Hassan asked a police officer for permission to buy groceries and medical supplies and was refused, it is alleged.

No food deliveries were made to him for several days and authorities “refused the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency permission to deliver culturally-appropriate food supplies to the residents”, it is alleged.

He ran out of asthma medication and despite calling a hotline number played on television, was not delivered medication in time and suffered asthma attacks, the claim alleges.

The medication was supplied on July 8, four days after they were locked inside the towers, the claim says.

Food supplied was not halal, a requirement of their Muslim faith, and Somali interpreters were not engaged in explaining why they had to go COVID-19 testing, it is alleged.

Residents were tested for COVID-19 “without giving their full, free and informed consent and, or in the alternative, under duress”, the claim alleges.

The class action is being run by solicitor Serene Teffaha of law firm Advocate Me.

It will be heard in the Supreme Court at a date to be set.

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