Public housing residents in Melbourne are suing the Victorian government for allegations of assault and negligence that occurred during the two-week lockdown in July 2020.
The claim, which was filed (pdf) in the Victorian Supreme Court on March 19, claims that residents were deprived of access to fresh air, exercise, and occupational activities during the lockdown. It also alleges that residents were left without medication, critical supplies and were served “spoiled” food.
Over 3,000 residents across nine public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington were detained in their apartments from July 4 to either July 9 or July 18 in 2020.
Lead plaintiff Idris Hassan, who lives in one of the North Melbourne public housing towers with his wife and three children, claims that his family were supplied with four “partially-defrosted” sausage rolls after receiving nothing for three days. The sausage rolls were not “fit for human consumption” and did not take into account their religious dietary requirements.
Hassan’s nine-year-old son later suffered asthma attacks after running out of medication during the lockdown, with the family then living off “nuts and beans,” the lawsuit claims.
It is also alleged that residents were threatened with an extra 10 days of lockdown if they did not “submit” to COVID-19 testing while not being informed of their rights and obligations in relation to testing.
Documents also say some police acted “in an intimidating or aggressive manner, with a lack of cultural sensitivity.”
In addition, a review by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass found in December 2020 that detaining residents without notice “appears to have been contrary to the law.”
Residents were not told in advance that the lockdown would be happening; something also raised in the class action lawsuit.
“The decision not to inform the residents of these matters was not governed by questions of practicality, but was a deliberate decision made to ensure that the residents did not go elsewhere,” it’s alleged.
However, in response to the Ombudsman report, the state government denied the claims saying that it “acted lawfully and within the applicable legislative framework.”
“Throughout this global pandemic, the government has made incredibly difficult decisions guided by data and health advice—but at the forefront of every single one of them was the safety and wellbeing of Victorians,” the state government said in a statement.
“The immediate response was not perfect—particularly in the very beginning when processes were being established—but there were hundreds of people working day and night to ensure residents were safe and had access to food and medical care.
“Once testing of residents was completed five days later, it emerged that almost 200 residents had coronavirus.
“As a result of the lockdown, we were able to stop the acceleration of cases, driving down numbers at a time when the rest of Victoria was recording hundreds of new active cases each and every day.”
According to the lawsuit filed by Advocate Me lawyer Serene Taffaha, Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen had 15 minutes to review, sign, and consider the human rights implications of the lockdown before a press conference scheduled for 4 p.m. on July 4.
Alongside van Diemen, the lawsuit lists deputy public health commander Finn Romanes, police commissioner Shane Patton, and the state of Victoria as defendants.
It will be heard in the Supreme Court in June.
AAP contributed to this report.