Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

$5m settlement proposed in public housing towers class action

The Victorian government has offered to settle the public housing towers class action for the sum of $5 million after it was accused of wrongly detaining public housing residents in July 2020 — but that settlement offer does not include an apology.

user iconLauren Croft 10 May 2023 The Bar
expand image

The class action was launched in early 2021, following an immediate “hard lockdown” of approximately 3,000 people in nine public housing towers. 

The state of Victoria was alleged to have wrongly detained the plaintiffs and group members for two weeks in July 2020, as well as allegedly threatening them with physical harm if they attempted to leave the towers.

Although the state has denied all allegations, both parties have now come to an agreement to resolve the proceeding through a $5 million settlement.


Idris Hassan and Hawa Warsame (the plaintiffs) filed a 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.

At the time, the lockdown measures were considered the most restrictive in Australia, detaining around 3,000 people to their homes in an immediate “hard lockdown”.

Class action group members include residents or people who were staying at: 9 Pampas Street, 159 Melrose Street, 33 Alfred Street, 76 Canning Street and 12 Sutton Street, North Melbourne, and 120, 126 and 130 Racecourse Road and 12 Holland Court, Flemington.

According to their original statement of claim, residents of 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 plaintiffs, now represented by Clemens Haskin Legal, 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.

Now, following orders from the court last month, the Victorian government has provided a notice of the proposed $5 million settlement in the class action, subject to court approval. According to the notice, group members who want to gain access to the settlement need to register by 27 June.

The lockdown came after the Victorian Minister for Health declared a state of emergency, before establishing close contact directions on 1 July 2020, which required those with COVID-19 or those who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days.  

On 4 July 2020, orders were made to commence a public health intervention in the Estate Towers, with hundreds of police officers sent to the towers to enforce the detention.

Following this — and before the launch of the class action — the Victorian Ombudsman launched an investigation into the treatment of people in lockdown, focusing primarily on 33 Alfred Street as it was subjected to the longest period of restrictions. This came after the Ombudsman received over 85 complaints from residents and community advocates, who voiced their concerns.

After conducting an investigation, the Ombudsman ultimately determined that the lockdown was a breach of human rights and recommended that the Victorian government apologise for any harm or stress caused by the immediate lockdown.

However, as reported by the ABC, the proposed settlement does not mention an apology.

One of the residents involved in the claim, Barry Berih, told the ABC that an apology was, to him, more important than a share in compensation.

“I can’t speak on behalf of the other residents, but I can speak on my behalf myself. Look, if it’s settled at the moment, I can’t really go forward for it,” he said.

“To me, it’s not really that important in terms of the money situation. The main important part is the apology and the community itself.”

In addition to the $5 million settlement, all costs of the proceeding, including Mr Hassan and Ms Warsame’s legal costs, will be paid by the state of Victoria.

The hearing to determine the approval of the settlement and its terms has been scheduled for 24 July 2023.