In response to the Ombudsman …

Cory Memery

Hello readers, thanks for all the feedback from my last column. In this issue I want to talk about the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into the “hard lockdown” of the public housing residents for two weeks at 33 Alfred St, North Melbourne.

The Ombudsman’s report can be found at ombudsman.vic.gov.au

As the spokesperson for the Public Housing Residents’ Network (PHRN) and the Save Public Housing Collective (SPHC), we have welcomed Ombudsman Deborah Glass’s report that found the state government had breached public housing residents’ human rights with the imposition of their detention. The following is our joint submission to the Ombudsman’s Investigation …

For the government through Minister Richard Wynne and backed by Premier Daniel Andrews to reject this finding is alarming, showing a complete disregard for human rights not only for the housing residents, but also for others in the community in the future.

To say they would do it again to “save lives” as Minister Wynne has stated is totally unacceptable, emotive language to seek to continue the stigmatisation of public housing residents. It makes a compete mockery of the campaign “we are all in this together”.

Public housing residents will always want lives saved but as the Ombudsman has found, the lockdowns were not meant to engage residents in COVID-19 outbreak management. The government made a political decision to use police to treat us all as criminals, unable to self-manage and work with the public health COVID-19 response team.

It is still not too late for the Premier to offer the apology Ms Glass has called for so that we can move on from what happened. An apology should be supported with appropriate compensation payments to resident households for the disruption and trauma created through the lockdowns in all nine towers, which I noted did not happen in private high-rise buildings when COVID-19 was detected.

Ms Glass has recommended the establishment of fully functional committees on all public housing estates so that residents can have a structural way of facilitating dialogue with Homes Victoria (formerly part of DHHS) and addressing issues that need attention, such as timely maintenance of facilities and repairs in flats. The government must provide the resources for this to happen.

Ms Glass has also called for COVID-19 healthcare plans to be put in place for each estate, and I call on the government to extend the current contract with Cohealth to be made permanent and be widened to have a service presence on all estates.

The government also needs to begin an immediate program of ending overcrowding in public housing towers by building new public housing (not social housing) in locations of reasonable proximity to where residents now live. This was promised by Premier Andrews in one of his weekly COVID-19 briefings a few months ago.

As we are now getting back to some sort of normality, we think it is time to start implementing the above mentioned immediately.

The PHRN and SPHC strongly believe the public housing residents in Victoria need a Public Housing Ombudsman to deal with all issues they cannot satisfactorily resolve with Homes Victoria. Ms Glass has carried out her duties impeccably with this investigation but in the past many requests for assistance to the Ombudsman’s Office did not get a response.

Details on the campaign for a Public Housing Ombudsman can be found at:

facebook.com/savepublichousingcollective/

facebook.com/VictorianPublicHousingOmbusman2020

Please feel free to contact me about any issues you may have •

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