Vic tower lockdowns spark battery claim

·2-min read

The state government is facing allegations of false imprisonment and battery over the controversial public housing tower lockdowns in Melbourne.

A class action has been filed against the government over the mandatory coronavirus lockdown of nine pubic housing towers last July.

Residents who have joined the action are seeking damages for false imprisonment, battery and assault, claiming they were left humiliated, degraded and in physical pain after being detained in their buildings and COVID tested.

Documents filed in Victoria's Supreme Court allege residents were threatened with an extra 10 days in lockdown if they did not submit to coronavirus testing, and that residents may not have given free and informed consent to undergo swab testing, or did so under duress.

The suit also alleges intimidation by Victoria Police officers may have triggered pre-existing trauma for some residents, including lead plaintiff Idris Hassan who came to Australia from Somalia after the civil war there.

Documents say some police acted "in an intimidating or aggressive manner, with a lack of cultural sensitivity".

Some tower residents said they were intimidated by armed officers controlling who came and went from the buildings, while others had negative reactions to cyclone fencing being used to set up exercise spaces, reminding them of migration detention.

Mr Hassan lives in one of the North Melbourne public housing towers with his wife and three children. The Muslim family only eat halal foods which do not contain processed sugars, excessive fats or processed flour, and have a child with gluten and lactose allergies.

It's alleged the Hassan family received a delivery of partially defrosted sausage rolls several days into the first lockdown.

Lawyer Serene Taffaha claims the food appeared to have spoiled, was not halal and did not meet the child's dietary requirement.

"(They) were not fit for human consumption," the lawsuit says.

It also alleges the government failed to consider relevant human rights.

A review by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass found in December 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.

The suit also names Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese Van Diemen and Public Health Commander Finn Romanes.

A judge alone trial has been sought.