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Investigation underway into public housing tower in lockdown

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The Victorian Ombudsman will investigate the treatment of public housing residents at 33 Alfred Street in North Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for nearly a fortnight.

The Victorian Ombudsman will investigate the treatment of public housing residents at 33 Alfred Street in North Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for nearly a fortnight.

The investigation led by Ombudsman Deborah Glass follows allegations that some residents across Melbourne's nine public housing towers in hard lockdown went days without receiving vital food and care packages and received little to no communication from authorities.

The state government has defended its actions in locking down as many as 3000 residents inside their apartments without warning, on the basis it was based on health advice in a bid to stamp out an escalating outbreak of COVID-19.

The investigation will respond to residents' concerns, emphasising the need for access to medical supplies, fresh air, exercise and other every day needs.

Ms Glass said it would also explore the broader issue of how to protect human rights when people are detained in lockdown.

"I recognise this is an unprecedented global health emergency and governments must act swiftly to protect human lives," she said.

"People on the front line are doing an extraordinary job to respond to this crisis and help keep us safe. However, there are lessons to be learnt in how governments can do that in a way that protects people's human rights, including access to fresh air, exercise and medical supplies."

READ MORE: Victoria's highest ever COVID-19 spike

Ms Glass said the investigation would be collaborative and she would be seeking input from the residents, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Emergency Management Team, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Community Legal Centres, community groups and the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

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"My aim is that together we can learn from what has occurred over the last fortnight and help put in place improvements for the North Melbourne residents," she said.

"If similar emergency situations occur in other public housing estates, we can use the learnings gained through this investigation to get better outcomes for anyone else who may be affected."

Premier Daniel Andrews said he was "not focused" on the work of the Ombudsman when questioned about the investigation at a press conference today.

"I am focused on protecting the people in those towers and that is what we have done," he said.

"We followed the advice of the chief health officer and a very large number of people are working day and night to provide support and care to those tower residents and other public housing residents, whether they be in those nine original towers, or others."

The hard lockdown for the 33 Alfred Street tower will come to an end on Sunday, but if residents still have symptoms or have tested positive to coronavirus, they will be required to remain in their unit.

"They will need to do that and there will be a proper enforcement process, just as there is with every other residence right across the state," Mr Andrews said.

"The balance we have tried to strike here is to treat people no different regardless of their landlord, regardless of the postcode or whether they are in a tower or a house - at the same time recognise that there are unique needs in those settings and try to meet those needs as best we can."

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The Victorian Ombudsman has been contacted by more than 50 people in the past fortnight who have raised concerns.

Two investigators have been on site this week to monitor the situation.

Ms Glass encouraged any resident with concerns about their situation in lockdown to contact her office on 9613 6222 (between 10am-4pm Monday-Friday) or via an interpreter on 131 450.

Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/national/ombudsman-investigation-underway-alfred-street-north-melbourne-public-housing-tower/aa137ac1-ef22-45ec-a2bb-ac0e40d5a781

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