Public housing residents’ political rights curtailed

Victorian Government rules that prevent politicians from door knocking public housing estates and limit residents’ use of notice boards and common areas unlawfully limit human rights.

The Human Rights Law Centre is currently acting for two residents of the Atherton Gardens public housing estate in Fitzroy and is urging the Department of Human Services to ensure that public housing residents’ rights to engage with the political process are not unreasonably restricted.

The HRLC has written to the Department and the Minister for Housing calling for two policies that regulate access to common areas and secure mail rooms on public housing estates to be amended as they breach Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

“There is a strong case that aspects of the policies breach residents’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which are protected under Victoria’s Human Rights Charter,” said HRLC Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser.

Amongst other things, the policies ban political information from being displayed on common area notice boards and prohibit political rallies of any kind in public housing estates. They also lock out elected and aspiring politicians from public housing estates by banning “door knocking” and by barring them from booking community facilities on estates.

“These policies are so broad they prevent residents from holding a rally on a common area of an estate to advocate on public housing repairs, waiting lists, safety issues or other political issues. They are not a proportionate response to any concerns about access by non-residents to secure areas and could be seen as a deliberate attempt by Government to limit the ability of public housing residents to participate in political processes relating to public housing issues,” Mr de Kretser said.

Mr de Kretser also noted that the rules are likely to have a disproportionate effect on people from migrant backgrounds, who make up the majority of public housing residents in Victoria.

To read the HRLC’s letter, click here.

Postscript: On 19 April 2013, the HRLC received a response from the Department’s Director of Housing stating that the policies in question are under review and no longer in use. The HRLC is continuing to monitor the situation and, in particular, will closely review the revised policies once they are made available.