Government seeks to dismiss tower residents' court case

The Victorian government wants a class action against the demolition of public housing towers thrown out of court, claiming residents' arguments are hopeless.

All 44 of Melbourne's high-rise public housing towers are set to be redeveloped by 2051, with five in Flemington, North Melbourne and Carlton expected to be replaced by 2031.

The project was a key pillar of the state government's housing statement unveiled by then-premier Daniel Andrews in September, and would lead to the relocation of more than 10,000 residents.

Some residents want the demolition stopped and say their human rights were not properly considered, with plaintiff Barry Berih leading a class action against the state government in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Legal counsel for the state government on Tuesday said the legal fight was destined to fail because none of the plaintiff's arguments had any merit.

Flemington public housing towers (fle image)
Of the 484 residents captured in the class action, 427 have already signed relocation agreements. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Liam Brown SC said the housing statement was simply a proposal - not a plan - and did not purport to have any legal effect, negating residents' argument it impeded on their rights.

Of the 484 residents captured in the class action, 427 have already signed relocation agreements.

"(There is nothing about the housing statement) that authorises or requires any person to do anything," Mr Brown told the court.

"It's a statement of future government intent and that's it."

The housing statement, which was a cabinet decision, could affect tenants' rights down the track but authorities would consider and deal with them then, Mr Brown said.

Lawyers for the residents rejected that claim, with barrister Leigh Howard saying the "killing ground" of the case was whether the government made a "decision" or a "policy" when it flagged the towers' demolition.

As far as the residents were concerned, it was a decision, and one that was followed by a directive from Homes Victoria to prepare to move out, Mr Howard said.

"This letter unequivocally tells you that a decision to demolish these towers has been made by cabinet and you are moving," he said, pointing to a letter from Homes Victoria to residents.

Mr Howard maintained cabinet made an error and went against legislation when it decided to demolish the towers - a choice Homes Victoria should have made instead.

"Cabinet has stood in the shoes of Homes Victoria in jurisdictional error," he said.

Mr Howard noted his client found out about the decision from watching TV, and said they wanted to test in court whether cabinet properly considered human rights and acted in accordance with them.

Mr Brown argued cabinet was acting completely within its power when it made the policy, and the policy had no real bearing until it was actually implemented, the barrister said.

He also argued cabinet was not technically a public authority in what Justice Melinda Richards described as "an extraordinary submission".

The state government has applied for the class action to be dismissed and, if that fails, for it to go ahead but as a one-plaintiff legal fight rather than a class action.

The defendants in the matter are the state government, Housing Minister Harriet Shing and Homes Victoria.

Justice Richards is set to reveal whether she will dismiss the case on May 3.