Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

It’s been four months since 200 residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens, a housing estate located at 125 Napier Street, were forced to flee their beds in the early hours of March 29 when the sixth floor of the high-rise housing estate was set ablaze.

Now residents are seeking justice for a catastrophe that they say could have been avoided and are seeking legal advice in an attempt to resolve issues with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Following the fire, the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) released a report damning the Fitzroy Housing Office, citing a lack of duty of care and mentioning several faults. These included a lack of smoke alarms and sprinklers and the build-up of combustible items – like a mattress that started the blaze, that had lain for weeks on the building’s sixth floor, despite residents’ complaints.

The Fitzroy Housing Office has announced they will be accepting all of the MFB’s recommendations, and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley has announced the changes will be applied to all 44 public estates across Melbourne.

But according to one resident, the fire is just one in a series of incidents that Minister Foley and the Department of Health and Human Services, of which Fitzroy Housing Office are a branch of, have to answer for.

Ranko Cosic has been a resident of Atherton Gardens since 2001, and is fed up with what he describes as a “pattern of negligence” on the part of the DHHS and the Fitzroy Office of Housing.

He says that in the 16 years he has lived in the building, there have been no fire drills or inspections to ensure all smoke alarms were in working order, but he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A terrorist threat, rampant drug use in common areas and instances where the DHHS had taken nine months to address complaints regarding unstable or unsafe tenants are just some of the issues Mr Cosic has brought to the attention of the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office. His appeals went as far as the Premier himself, but he says his complaints fell upon deaf ears, and that the neglect goes further than just the Fitzroy Housing Office landing at the doorstep of Minister Foley himself.

“Since his election, the Minister did not come to our estate until the day of the fire,” Mr Cosic says of Minister Foley, who he believes to be uninterested in his position as housing Minister and unwilling to police the performance of his subordinates.

“Everything rots from the top; it starts at the head and transfers through the whole body. I have reported very serious matters to Minister Foley and it all gets ignored,” Mr Cosic says.


Ranko Cosic says the first time Minister Foley visited Atherton’s residents was when they took refuge in the Town Hall following the March 29 fire. Photo: Ranko Cosic

He also recalls personal experiences of harassment and attempted character assassination at the hands of the department, which he feels came about in an attempt to silence his efforts to improve living conditions for himself and fellow residents.

Mr Cosic remains defiant however, declaring he’s “not going to lay down”.

Fed up, Mr Cosic reached out to Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, whom he describes as an ‘integral part’ of the legal battle: “I’m fortunate Steve is there, because who else would fight? I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Like Mr Cosic, Cr Jolly is tired of the pattern of neglect shown by the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office, who he says have ignored their residents for years, “and it’s taken a fire and media publicity [and the] threat of legal action for them to do anything”.

While Mr Cosic rallied 30 fellow Atherton residents, Cr Jolly recruited key stakeholders and legal counsel.

He hopes the class action will lead to changes within the department, whose behaviour he labels “dangerously incompetent.”

“It’s outrageous the way the residents are treated … the only time the Department is efficient is when you fail to meet your rent,” he says.

Residents of 125 Napier St are seeking a formal inquest of the fire, along with achieving a successful means of communicating their issues with the Department and working towards having these issues addressed.

Mr Cosic admits his hopes for the outcome of the legal proceedings are “lofty” and go beyond monetary compensation. He says he would like to see the Fitzroy Housing Office “purged”, and Minister Foley, whom he describes as “inept” removed from his position and replaced with “a minister who does care about private housing, who will go to the estate”.

Cr Jolly agrees with Mr Cosic, saying of Minister Foley, “I think he needs to go”.

Mr Cosic says for him, it’s not about the money, but social justice, and with the aid of Cr  Jolly, he will continue to fight his cause until he sees justice done.

Written by Alice Wilson 

Playing the field: should our politicians be able to bat for two teams?

Our constitution, in Section 44, says that those holding dual citizenship are ineligible to run for office in the Australian Government. With more and more politicians holding dual citizenship and falling on their sword, the stability of the Australian Parliament is being threatened. But does it really matter if our politicians hold dual citizenship? The Yarra Reporter took to the streets to find out if you think where you come from is more important than what you do while you’re here.


Johnny, 28, Carlton, works at Her Majesty’s Theatre

“I don’t think it’s an issue at all. I think we project this idea that Australia is a multicultural mixing pot and it seems really strange that politicians can turn around and say ‘we have to be Australian’. It’s a new country and we don’t have the long cultural history that other countries do, so it seems strange to pretend that we have to stick to this tradition that we don’t really have.”

Kylie, 22, Brunswick, Student

“I think losing elected senators is bad for our political system. The people elect their members and it’s not fair that they should resign over something so petty. As long as the senators are Australian, which they all are, I see no reason they can’t hold dual citizenship.”


Luke, 21, Caulfield, Actor

“Politicians should be able to be dual citizens. All the senators who have resigned in the last fortnight haven’t been acting with Australia’s best interests second. Their dual citizenship might enrich our nation.”


Albert, 22, Fitzroy, Student

“I don’t think it’s a problem – I think the main idea is that they’re willing to serve Australia and the community; I think that’s the number one priority. I think it’s important for politicians to know their history, not so much in terms of whether it would have an impact, but just in terms of having a knowledge, I think it’s important.”


Luisa, 27, Carlton, Nurse

“I don’t think it’s relevant at all. I think that’s the least important thing when it comes to them doing their job well. The fact that it’s stopping politicians from doing their job – it just shouldn’t be an issue.”


Vincent, 26, Fairfield, Finance

“I can see why politicians can’t be dual citizens. At the same time, a person’s citizenship can have a big role in how they identify. A senator resigning is probably not necessary; revoking their dual citizenship would be enough.”

Written by Nicholas Nakos and Alice Wilson

Family Violence in Yarra

Yarra families that are victims of violence are lacking places of refuge and support, according to an online advocacy group run by the Socialist Party.

The Facebook group, We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub was created in December last year after the council released a statement on its website in the same month citing a 24.5 per cent spike in family violence reports over the previous year in the City of Yarra alone. This statistic was derived from the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria earlier this year.

The report was even more alarming because the average increase in family violence reports across Victoria was 10 per cent. The group was one of the key drivers of the investigation run by the Royal Commission which released a report in December last year stating five safety hubs will be built across Victoria, with just one of those five to be built in Melbourne.

Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, a key member and spokesperson of We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub said they lost the battle when trying to turn the council-owned property at 152a Hoddle Street into a domestic violence refuge and resource centre. Cr Jolly said that the decision was a “slap in the face” to survivors of domestic and family violence in the area.

He also said that there is a possibility that the council will use the property, located opposite the Collingwood Town Hall,  for units and other housing development. Jolly said that the Yarra council’s main concern is money, but assures the public that he will “keep banging away” in tune with the new budget due to be released in August.

Annie Douglas from Women’s Health in the North (WHIN), a council-funded organisation and full member of Domestic Violence Victoria told the Yarra Reporter that she didn’t know about the refuge centre issue, but the increase in family violence reports isn’t necessarily negative as it may demonstrate that the ongoing funding and support of the Yarra Council is helping survivors of family violence be more confident in seeking help.

“It’s really hard to say what has caused the increase. Generally, it can be attributed to increased confidence in the system, an increase in media attention and public understanding that [family violence] is not a ‘private matter’. It is simply not acceptable.” Douglas said.

Douglas, who is the health promotion officer focused on prevention against violence and gender equity, said that WHIN developed a Building a Respectful Community strategy, for 2017 – 2021.The strategy, supported by the state government and backed by a further 26 organisations was released last Friday, and aims to help combat violence using a strategic partner approach with its supporters, Douglas said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is providing core funding for the strategy, that many major organisations in the City of Yarra and others in the north-metro region are supporting. Cr Jolly said that any strategy or resources are a step in the right direction, but reiterated that he still hasn’t given up the fight to fund more places of refuge.

Fitzroy library showed its support of WHIN’s strategy by facilitating a talk by Fitzroy Legal Service on Wednesday, July 12 in an attempt to educate the public on their rights when faced with family violence. The talk was part of  Know Your Rights, a series of regular sessions held at libraries accross the Yarra, presenting legal information for communtiy members. 

Fitzroy Legal’s community development officer, Jennifer Ward, said that having better access to information surrounding survivors’ rights empowers them to make better choices.

Ward said the main aim of the talk was to target vulnerable people who may not already have access to services.

The City of Yarra is “diverse and full of new migrants,” said Ward, and this is why the service is committed to providing good quality legal information to those who may not have the tools to know their rights and options.

Cr Jolly said that 152a Hoddle Street is continuing to be discussed as becoming a potential safe hub.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

Political debates, portraits and hot topics. Refugees are in the Spotlight this weekend.

It’s been a big week for asylum seekers in the Australian media. After Dutton’s much talked about comments earlier this week, the timing for the opening night of the I Came By Boat exhibition couldn’t be better.

On display are 13 portraits of Australians who happened to have arrived here by boat.

Each portrait is accompanied by a story; a personal journey of uncertainty, poverty, war and detention. Each story told willingly in a bid to highlight the contribution of refugees in Australia.

Photographer Lucas Allen manages to capture distinctions in ethnicities and cultural diversity in the minimalist portraits. The one consistent feature being the ‘everyday Australian’ aspect of each photograph.

The unspeakable words ‘boat people’ hardly come to mind when walking through the gallery. In fact, it looks like they might have stepped off a plane much like the other one in four migrants who now call Australia home.

Blanka Dudas & photographer, Lucas Allen

John Gulzari, an Afghani Hazara, was one of the participants in the campaign.

“I think that refugee and asylum seekers have been let down, by the minister [Peter Dutton] and by politicians [in general]. They have always been demonized.” Says John.

Left to Right: John Gulzari and Dr Munjed Al Muderis
Left to Right: John Gulzari and Dr Munjed Al Muderis

John Fled Afghanistan as a teenager in 1999. He first traveled to Pakistan, then on to Indonesia where he boarded a boat heading for Australia.

His story is all too familiar, one which combines the best and the worst of humanity. In 2007 John became a fully-fledged Australian citizen and active participant in Victorian politics.

“[The campaign] will raise the profile of asylum seekers and refugees, especially as it becomes a hot debate in politics.”

Opening Night of the I Came By Boat Exhibition

And a hot debate it is indeed. Although the campaign serves to disprove Dutton’s statement that asylum seekers are all illiterate, it does highlight the fact that they are actually employable.

But let’s be honest, if you had choose between Dr.Munjed Al Muderis and myself to perform life-saving surgery on a loved one, you’d be pretty thankful he stole that job away from me.


So let’s not delve too deep into the statement that illiterate beings, who speak no English, are stealing our jobs, whilst simultaneously sapping your tax dollars because they’re on the dole. The memes circulating Facebook are doing a rather good job of breaking down that argument on their own.

The exhibition will be open to the public from Friday the 20th of May to Sunday the 22nd of May from 11am-5pm.

It’s a highly regarded campaign Australia wide, with talks it may venture interstate.

Eva Orner, director of recently released documentary film Chasing Asylum attended the opening. In a joint event with I Came By Boat, Orner will take part in a Q&A session following the screening of her film next Sunday the 29th of May at Cinema Nova.

Thanks to Blanka Dudas, the driving force behind the campaign, you can expect to see the posters popping up around Melbourne sometime in June, just in time for the federal election.

If you can, get down to 9 Glasshouse Road in Collingwood over the weekend, it’s a great exhibit and an accurate reflection of how we need to view refugees and asylum seekers, just like anyone else.

To donate you can visit the I Came By Boat website here. Tickets are also still available to the Q&A screening of Chasing Asylum.

#ICAMEBYBOAT campaign humanizing asylum seekers in Australia

Liberal political rhetoric uses their stance against people-smugglers to justify their policy against humanity.

We’ve heard the prime minister word-slay the actions of the ‘people-smugglers who are preying on vulnerable people,’ with no mention of their own unwillingness to help them.

Blanka Dudas, has had enough. After fleeing her own home at the age of 19, during the Balkan wars, she has successfully built a life for herself as an Australian migrant for over 20 years.

Blanka Dudas, behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot.

Blanka, a professional make-up artist, is the driving force behind the soon to be launched #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign, along with photographer Lucas Allen.

“I’m doing it because I feel like the mainstream media and politics here have done their best to dehumanize asylum seekers and refugees. I was a refugee myself and I can sort of put myself in their shoes. We need to try and humanize these people again, and say ‘hey these are people just like us’.” Blanka told YR in an interview.

#ICAMEBYBOAT has so far raised over 75K through the local crowdfunding platform Chuffed, with an expected launch in April 2016. You will soon see beautifully designed posters pasted across Melbourne alongside a gallery exhibition, featuring photographs of integrated asylum seekers, by photographer Lucas Allen.

fern high res

“[I thought] if we photograph them and put part of their story on the poster to show that they are people living here, they are working here, they are sending their kids to school. They are basically just like us except they had the misfortune of being born in an area that is really troubled.” She says.

The campaign has received a barrage of attention from individuals and media, even the likes of AJ+ made a campaign video.


And it’s been endoresed by none other than vocal Greens leader, Adam Bandt.



But Blanka says she’s not just preaching to the choir. Her designs have a specific target.

“I thought that the more minimal the posters, the more official they look, the more likely they will get the attention of the people who actually think asylum seekers are a problem.”

“We have tried to stay away from the political debate, we want to present it as a humanitarian case.”

The message is simple.

“There is no argument about this, these are people and they need help, and once they are given help, they are contributing and they are making Australia better.”

There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people around the world and with globalization becoming more than just an online reality, the politics of seeking asylum needs to change.

“I saw a campaign in the UK called ‘I am an immigrant’ and I thought that something positive is really needed at this point [here in Australia].

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

Sourcing individuals to feature in the campaign has been the biggest hurdle.

“I did think that part would be easier. I thought getting funding would be difficult… People have suffered a lot so they’re not really that keen to be telling their story, they just want to forget about it and move on.”

“We printed out flyers on the weekend and we went to Dandenong. My little boy, my four year old, was handing out flyers. My little activist!… I guess he’s the cutest one so people cant refuse him.”

“This weekend we’ll probably go to Footscray and do the same. We’re trying to find diverse suburbs where we will hopefully find people who might want to join us.” She says.

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

As the interest grows, so do the number of participants, but they are always looking for more brave people to join.

“We are hoping to get more women, as we have quiet a lot of men. We’ve got people from Vietnam, Hazaras from Iran, someone from Iraq and Sri Lanka. It would be great to have more diversity, people from African countries, Burma, Pakistan.” She says.

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

Having raised so much money through crowdfunding Blanka says she determined to make this project the best it can possibly be.

“It has fully taken up all of my time, my son walks around the house saying, I came by boat, I came by boat.” She smiles and continues, “[but] I have met some amazing people through it and if it makes one bit of difference then it was worth it.”

If you are interested in donating to the campaign you can do so here.











Should they stay or should they go?

The City of Yarra has been a Refugee Welcome Zone since 2002 and the City prides itself as one of the first local governments to join this initiative.
A Refugee Welcome Zone is a Local Government Area, which has made a commitment in spirit to welcoming refugees into the community, upholding the human rights of refugees, demonstrating compassion for refugees and enhancing cultural and religious diversity in the community. The Yarra Council adopted its Refugee and Asylum Seeker Statement in 2005, which outlines Yarra’s commitment to a respectful and compassionate approach to asylum seekers.
With the recent campaign around the 37 children that used the #LetThemStay hastag, we wondered what people thought. Through our twitter account we conducted a straw poll and asked people to vote as to whether the asylum seekers should:
A ) be sent back to Nauru
B) processed here in Australia
Perhaps it reflects the compassion of Australians that not one person voted to send them back. Indeed it was a small sample but …. Not one…
Keep an eye out for future YR Straw Polls and have your say.