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#Melbourne: Voices from the Blocks speak out, say detention is putting people’s health at risk

Melbourne. Australia. Statements by RISE and Voices from the block about hard police lockdown.

Submitted to Enough 14.

RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees calls on the Victorian Trade Hall Council (VTHC) to condemn the brutal police lockdown of 9 public housing towers in Flemington, and North Melbourne.

While VTHC has launched a fundraiser for those living in lockdown, this is not enough to show support and solidarity for working class people of colour living in these towers. Our people shoulder the disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 crisis. We work in frontline jobs that keep Victoria going during the crisis but this also means that we are more exposed than others to the virus. We cannot take leave or ‘social distance’ because we will lose our jobs. Many of our people are being detained arbitrarily and indefinitely in Australia’s detention camps and hotels, living in constant fear of the virus spreading uncontrollably. And now, residents living in public housing where many of our members reside are being forced into a military-style lockdown. African communities from the same flats have already exposed racial profiling and targeting of community members by Victoria police. People living in these towers have every reason to be afraid of the 500 police officers stationed across on every floor of every tower. 

  • Why have police been sent in to enforce a lockdown of a community with a long history of torture, trauma and detention?
  • Why wasn’t the State Government’s first response to provide medical assistance and disseminate health information to those living in these towers?
  • How can the State Government or police even guarantee that it is safe to keep 3000 people in police lockdown in crowded, substandard public housing?
  • How is the State Government going to provide for people who have medical conditions and cannot get access to their medication or doctors because they are locked down and afraid under police guard?
  • Can the State government guarantee that residents blocked from leaving the building to go to work will not lose their jobs?
  • Is the State government going to conduct similar military style operations if there are outbreaks of COVID-19 in other Public housing estates?

The answer to all these questions is not through a fundraiser. Solidarity and support for working class people of colour comes from holding the police and government accountable for racism and violence – Not just raising money for food and beverages to cover up the Victorian Labor government’s racist behaviour. We call on the VTHC to clearly denounce the police lockdown in Flemington and North Melbourne. Nothing About Us Without Us.

RISE, July 5, 2020.

Voices from the Blocks speak out, say detention is putting people’s health at risk

Voices from the Blocks is a coalition of residents, family members and community of the North Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington public housing estates.

The community has watched as the Andrews State Government dragged its dysfunction into their homes with hastily deployed police officers with guns in their holsters. Despite early reports from the Premier’s office, there has been minimal presence of officials from the Department of Health and Human Services on the ground, no clear chain of command amongst the deployed police officers, and no access to regular health care workers that residents rely on for their wellbeing.

The residents of these towers are part of the wider community; they include our health workers,
teachers, and child care workers.

Voices from the Blocks watched in horror last night as food, medicine, and essentials like nappies and baby formula were suddenly confiscated by Authorised Officers. This was after more than 48 hours of needing these essential items, and having to rely on grassroots, community lead efforts.

Hundreds of community members have been left to plug in the gap left by the Andrews Government’s punitive response and mismanagement. The community of the North Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington estates have shown up over the last 3 days offering translations when there were no interpreters, culturally appropriate food, and much needed medicine.

Voices from the Blocks know that there needs to be trust between the people and relevant authorities for health initiatives to be effective. You cannot build trust by deploying 500 police officers inside people’s homes and criminalising them.

A public health response should include health workers and relevant services that already work with and understand the community. The community has lived through the pandemic with the rest of Australia. Residents have been supporting each other to manage the risk of the pandemic since its outbreak in March. There shouldn’t be one rule for some and another rule for others in the same postcode. The residents of North Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington have shown for months that they are more than capable of managing the requirements of quarantine and following public health directions, like their neighbours .

Voices from the Blocks’ key demands are:

  1. For the all public housing estates to be placed under Stage 3 COVID-19 restrictions like
    our neighbours so we can still leave our homes for work or education, exercise, medical
    care or caregiving, or shopping for supplies.
  2. For the Victorian Government to withdraw all 500 Police and Authorised Officers from
    the inside of all the public housing estates
  3. For the Victorian Government to implement infection prevention measures such as
    regular disinfection and cleaning of communal spaces, and distribution of masks.
  4. For the Victorian Government to set up testing sites in walking distance of the public
    housing estates instead of in the foyer inside the public housing estate buildings in order
    to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19
  5. For the Victorian government to coordinate services in support of current community led
    activities that are responding to resident’s food, medical, financial, mental health and
    social service needs

Voices from the Blocks, July 7, 2020.

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