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‘Heartbreaking’ $5m public housing settlement comes without apology from Victorian government

The Victorian Supreme Court has been told that the “hard” public housing lockdowns of 2020 in Melbourne were “reasonable and demonstrably justifiable”, despite a class action alleging that residents were wrongly detained without access to proper food and medicine.

user iconLauren Croft 25 July 2023 Big Law
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The Victorian government has stood by the lockdown of public housing towers in July 2020, agreeing to a settlement of $5 million without an apology or any admission of wrongdoing.

Lead plaintiffs Idris Hassan and Hawa Warsame filed the class action against the state of Victoria in the Victorian Supreme Court in March 2021, following the mandatory lockdown of the public housing towers in Melbourne between 4 July and 18 July 2020.

The settlement was originally proposed in May this year and was agreed upon in the Supreme Court on Monday (24 July). Eligible residents will now receive $2,200 each, with children under 16 to receive $1,100. Compensation is set to be paid to 1,800 adults and 750 children, with legal costs still under discussion.


The class action was launched in early 2021, following an immediate “hard lockdown” of approximately 3,000 people in nine public housing towers located in Melbourne and Flemington, whereby residents were given no notice and police lined the perimeter.

In the Supreme Court on Monday, the Victorian government said it stood by the lockdown of the towers, but it agreed to a settlement to avoid lengthy court proceedings.

Georgina Costello KC represented the state of Victoria and, as reported by ABC, said that the Victorian government “continues to deny liability” as the lockdown was “lawful, necessary and proportionate” and defended the settlement amount.

“The deprivation of liberty was reasonable and demonstrably justifiable,” Ms Costello told the court.

“It’s a realistic settlement in light of the confinement in their homes, the welfare support they received and the fact that there were significant restrictions on liberty in Victoria at that time.”

According to their original statement of claim, residents and visitors to the public housing towers were detained for up to 14 days as part of lockdown measures and were threatened with physical harm by “armed police officers” if they attempted to leave.

The class action also alleged that the detained residents and visitors had inadequate access to food, medicine, information and assistance and were, as such, seeking “aggravated and exemplary damages” due to the conditions of their detention.

Mr Hassan and Ms Warsame are both Muslim and only eat halal food, as well as primarily food that is prepared at home and free from processed sugars, excessive fats or processed flour. They both were born in Somalia and arrived in Australia as refugees in 1998. Mr Hassan’s son also suffered from asthma and anaphylaxis, was gluten and lactose intolerant, and required regular asthma medication.

Both have demanded additional compensation of $40,000 each, as the pair said they have experienced trauma during the proceedings and due to the stress of leading the class action.

Following the approval of the settlement, resident Barry Berih told Today on Tuesday morning that it was “not enough”, “heartbreaking”, and that residents of the towers deserved an apology from the Victorian government after being “traumatised” by the lockdown.

“This was the first time in Australia, the whole world basically, where there had been a lockdown for 14 days and, for me, it is very shameful.

“The government should apologise for us for being in lockdown for two weeks,” he said.

Mr Berih added that he wasn’t sure what the resident’s chances were of getting a higher settlement, but he believed it should be more.

Supreme Court Justice John Dixon is yet to formally approve the settlement, and he gave both parties 14 days to discuss legal costs and other unresolved parts of the claim.

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