We welcome the release last week of 46 refugees into our community from arbitrary detention, most recently held in The Park Hotel in Carlton. We are concerned by reports that they have been issued Bridging Visas, which are temporary, with conditions with the potential to infringe on human rights.

Meanwhile, 14 men remain detained in the Park Hotel in the City of Melbourne; detained without charge by the Commonwealth Government for, in some cases, nearly 8 years. Abitrary detention is a gross violation of human rights. They must be released.

When the men were moved by the Commonwealth Government under Victoria Police security to the Park Hotel in Carlton from the Mantra Hotel in Preston on 17 December 2020, we immediately requested a review of planning, building and public health and wellbeing legislation – three areas that Councils enforce – to assess if any breaches could be acted on.

Despite the hotel being used as a place of detention, it appears that the use of the hotel for this purpose is consistent with the broad ‘accommodation’ use permitted; this is similar to the conclusions that Darebin Council reached in relation to the Mantra hotel (Darebin then called on the Planning Minister to amend the land use definitions to preclude forced detention from general accommodation uses). Other legislation is being explored, particularly as it inter-relates to Commonwealth legislation covering detention. We are particularly concerned about the lack of natural ventilation and the fact of borrowed daylight in the rooms.

Councils do not write legislation, however, and it is always open to the Commonwealth to simply move the men elsewhere, as they have done before. The endgame must be the abolition of our offshore and indefinite detention regimes in Commonwealth legislation, and a return to the upholding of human rights for all.

The City of Melbourne is a Refugee Welcome Zone with a proud history of advocacy for our diverse, multicultural, migrant communities, and we will work to amplify the voices of the men in the Park Hotel in Carlton, including with new business when Council returns (watch this space). And we will keep working with those campaigning for the complete overhaul of Australia’s toxic immigration detention regime.

To this end, and as always, we must uphold the right to public protest. We agree with Melbourne Activist Legal Support and others that local laws must be applied consistent with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Greens on Council commissioned an assessment of the City of Melbourne’s Activities Local Law against the Charter in 2015, and worked with activists in 2017 to defeat the proposals to amend definitions of camping that would have made rough sleeping an offence.

Recently, the local law was misapplied to pressure protestors not to use amplified sound. The City of Melbourne’s CEO has responded to those who have signed the MALS and change[.]org petitions to confirm that no protestors have or will be fined, and recognising the City’s approach to managing public spaces, including respecting the right to protest. The local law governs activities in the public realm, covering everything from busking to camping, from fencing to smoking, from keeping animals to street trading. Local law officers are called on to enforce it constantly, across the city. City of Melbourne local law officers are employees of the City of Melbourne, and are not – and must never be or be seen to be – an instrument of Victoria Police. The local law was applied in an overzealous fashion at Treasury Place on 13 January: this anomaly was not the product of a changed policy approach to protest by the City of Melbourne.

These events are an important reminder to everyone, especially those in Government, of the primacy of human rights. Whether in deciding how to process asylum applications, or in deciding how to apply local laws, everyone has human rights, whatever your citizenship, background or ethnicity, and all Australian governments must respect them.

Solidarity with the Park Hotel refugees and everyone fighting for their release.

Melbourne City Greens Councillors Rohan Leppert and Dr Olivia Ball