The high rise lockdown in Victoria and the lesson this provides

By Jim Hayes

No doubt about it. Victoria’s state government has done more to combat Covid-19 than any other around Australia. This is not to say that it has all been perfect. Nevertheless, what it has done has not been able to prevent Melbourne being the epicentre of what could be the start of a second wave outbreak.

Unlike the accusations coming from The Australian and the Herald Sun, blaming this on the Andrews government is wrong and avoids a proper insight into what is happening.

It is truly ironic and dishonest for these Murdoch rags, which insisted at the start of the first outbreak that it is all an exaggeration and then promoted the line up of tin foil hat type conspiracies, to now turn around and say that the government is not doing enough to protect people from infection.

It is not likely that anything coming out of these pages, will have any resemblance to reality.

The downside, and one shared by the federal government and all state governments, is in the way lockdowns have been carried out. While Victoria has done somewhat better than the others, it remains that citizens have not been treated as partners in the effort. Big brother, shouting out orders and expecting passive obedience has prevailed.

Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty: Mam trying to deliver groceries is blocked

Little effort has been put to involving people as an active force at the local level, using their initiative to find solutions to needs. if this had been done during the inital outbreak, the damage caused could have been reduced further.

Australia is fortunate to have been able to enjoy the advantage of the geographical isolation of a southern island nation, seasonal factors, and a functioning public health system. This has so far saved us from much worse.

The worst new Melbourne outbreaks have been at the North Melbourne Kensington and Flemington high rise estates. The lockdown was necessary. Hesitation would have provided the major risk of a rapid spread.

But to surround the home of more than 3,000 people with a cordon of armed police, without consultation and their involvement, was bound to cause anger, and this is exactly what happened.

The nastiness could have been avoided with a little respect, trust, and confidence that residents are able to largely self-organise the situation. They have onsite community groups and networks to do it. None of this was taken on board.

If the authorities had done everything they could, to ensure participation in ensuring everyone stayed home, providing for food, medical and social contact needs, there would have been a lot less angst.

Resident displays anger over treatment

The sea of police could have been scaled down to a smaller presence. Residents would not have been made to feel that they are being pushed around, left confused by inadequate information, spoken at instead of consulted with, and not left anxious about what is happening to them.

Right at the start, there should have been a contingency plan to ensure adequate help with income. People under lockdown cannot go to work. In a location where the residents tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale, this is even more critical. Unless residents are left with the capacity to put food on the table, they are not going to willingly accept being locked down.

Given what is known about the incubation period of this virus and the emerging understanding of how it spreads, the 5-day lockdown does not seem to be long enough, and therefore, the potential to cause another Ruby Princes type incident.

The buck has to stop with the Andrews government. At the same time, this is not where all the blame lies. Police command could learn something about how to treat people as human beings, instead of as potential law breakers. The problem is in the way public authorities have been run for a long time. They are not particularly people friendly, and this needs to be addressed.

There are also a few bright notes. The Victorian Trades Hall Council is mobilising unions to give the residents a helping hand. Other smaller community groups and individuals are doing what they can . The Inner Melbourne Community Legal and Moonee Valley Legal services are offering residents their help.

The experience at Kensington and Flemington can be learned from. The role of government and its authorities should be to help us look after each other, not to act as our masters.

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