State Government restores public housing residents' political rights

Victorian Government rules that limited public housing residents’ political rights have been removed following legal advocacy by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of two residents of the Atherton Gardens public housing estate in Fitzroy.

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the HRLC, welcomed the changes saying, “The new policy is a big improvement and is broadly consistent with human rights. The key will be seeing how the policy is implemented but overall, this is a good outcome for public housing residents that shows the value of Victoria’s Human Rights Charter in action.”

The previous policies expressly banned residents from holding political rallies of any kind on housing estates and banned residents from placing political information on noticeboards. They also locked out elected politicians and candidates from estates by banning door knocking and barring them from booking community facilities.

Under the new policy, the express ban on political rallies and notices has been removed and the outright ban on door knocking by politicians has also been overturned.

Brandan Sahnkovich, a client of the HRLC who has lived at Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens estate since 2002, said, “It’s good that they’ve made the changes and I’m looking forward to seeing that they’re implemented properly. We took this issue up because we were being treated differently from the rest of the population. This was about ensuring the same rights for public housing tenants as other Victorians.”

The HRLC assisted Mr Sahnkovich and another resident to advocate for changes to the policies, relying on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly rights in Victoria’s Human Rights Charter.

“There was a strong case that aspects of the old policies breached residents’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which are protected under Victoria’s Human Rights Charter,” said Mr de Kretser.

He added that the new policy could be further improved by providing guidance on approval requirements under the policy and by improving the media access policy. “Approval processes need to occur in timely way and be consistent with the Human Rights Charter.”