‘I will not apologise for saving lives’: Housing Minister refuses to say sorry

Housing Minister Richard Wynne has angrily defended the snap decision to place about 3000 public housing residents into a hard lockdown in July, in tense public hearings at Victorian Parliament on Friday.

Mr Wynne repeatedly declined to say whether the government had followed the advice of the then deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen in its decision to lock down the towers with no notice to residents.

A child looks out from an apartment window at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne, where residents went through the country’s toughest lockdown this year.Credit:Penny Stephens

That decision has this week been lambasted by Ombudsman Deborah Glass, who said locking thousands of residents in their North Melbourne and Flemington apartment towers without warning in July violated their human rights.

Ms Glass said some residents had gone without food and medications and tenants should have been given notice to prepare for lockdown like other Victorians had been.

“The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” she said.

On Friday, Mr Wynne refused repeated invitations to apologise to the residents affected by the decision, saying: “I will not apologise for saving people’s lives”.

Housing Minister Richard Wynne refused to offer residents an apology as recommended by Ms Glass in the report.Credit:Simon Schluter 

“The simple fact of this … is undeniable – by the intervention of this government we saved people’s lives, it’s as simple as that. And I don’t resile from that, for one minute.”

Mr Wynne tabled evidence showing the efficacy of the hard lockdown in stemming the spread of the virus through the towers. By September, the rate of infections across the affected public housing had fallen to zero, months before the rest of Victoria.

Dr van Diemen told the Ombudsman that in July she was “quite terrified … that we would see within a week many hundreds of cases”.

However, she said delaying the lockdown by a day would not have made “a hugely significant difference”.

Mr Wynne initially told the parliamentary committee that the decision to lock down was made by a sub-committee of cabinet.

“The cabinet committee took the view, correctly in my view, absolutely correctly, given that this virus was raging, raging out of control in that 33 Alfred Street block, that it would be appropriate to intervene as soon as possible,” he said.

The Flemington Towers housing complex: The challenge of overcrowding needs exposure.Credit:Getty Images

“I think the important question that has to be considered here is, if we had waited to the next day people would have been free, who would have contracted the virus [and] would have been free to engage on the estate.”

But Greens MP Sam Hibbins referred to Premier Daniel Andrews saying in August that the decision to put the towers into immediate lockdown had been taken on the advice of health officials.

“The Premier said told us that there is no alternative but to accept the advice of the chief health officer and part of the advice of the chief health officer was to have an immediate lockdown,” Mr Hibbins said.

“Is that an accurate statement?”

Mr Wynne did not respond directly, but said Dr van Diemen had signed off on the order.

“The decision to intervene in the towers at North Melbourne and Flemington was a public health response, which was signed off by Dr van Diemen, can I be any clearer with you than that?”

He did not answer further questions about whether her advice was specifically to shut down the towers immediately.

Meanwhile, a public housing residents’ group called for financial compensation for tenants who were subjected to hard lockdowns, as well as a public apology from the state government.

Public Housing Residents Network spokesman Cory Memery said Mr Wynne’s response to the report was “alarming, showing a complete disregard for human rights not only for the public housing residents but 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 that seeks to continue with the stigmatisation of public housing residents,” Mr Memery said.

“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 that did not happen in private high rise buildings when COVID-19 was detected.”

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article