Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise this afternoon to speak in support of Mr Tee’s motion, and I do so on a number of grounds. Mr Tee and others have taken us through a number of issues pertaining to the history of this matter. This afternoon I would like to take the chamber as much as I can to the area of Narrawong. It is a hamlet 15 kilometres west of Portland and it has the Surry River meandering through the town, making its way to the sea.
The coastline in the area has always experienced erosion and storms and has a high sea level to land. Butted up against the coast is a long primary dune that has significant vegetation on it. On the other side of the primary dune are significant wetlands that run parallel to the coast. On one side of this dune, before the wetlands, is where the proposed development, the subject of this issue, is to take place.
With that setting, it is no surprise and no wonder that in anyone’s language this is a recipe for controversy. Everyone recognises that when we build structures they need to comply with rules and regulations. That is to ensure that the right thing is done in a whole range of areas, let alone a build in a sensitive coastal wetlands area.
In recent weeks I have received from locals in the area numerous materials — letters, photos, emails and computer disks — on this issue.
So committed is one local group, the Friends of the Surry, that its members have raised and spent more than $11 000 on getting expert environmental advice and prosecuting their case in various forums, including the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. I might add that the VCAT decision dated 10 December 2010 was to not grant a building permit for what known as East Street, Narrawong.
I met with Narrawong locals not last Saturday but the Saturday before, 14 May. For those who want to know more about that meeting, it was pretty accurately covered in an article in the Portland Observer and Guardian of 20 May. At that meeting the local residents raised with me a number of significant issues. What I came away with was an overwhelming sense, firstly, of the deep-seated love the locals have of the local environment. Secondly, the locals simply cannot comprehend how and why anyone can be allowed to build in the location that is being sought for development.
Thirdly, the locals have approached this issue purely on environmental facts, and they believed that that would have won the day. Fourthly, the locals are pretty angry that they now have to deal with this issue on a political level.
The locals are also angry because they see this issue as a no-brainer. I must admit that when I went to the site and saw the half-built building that is on the sand dune, I agreed that this is essentially a no-brainer. The locals are also offended that after all the letters, emails and various other attempts to contact the government they have not received a reply. Apart from the important straightforward environmental protection issues, residents are really worried about the fire and flooding risks, the liability and insurance issues and, of course, community rescue planning. They are concerned that all those issues will essentially be handballed to the next generation. The locals also cannot really work out why we have this situation of the government implying that it will allow development in high-risk areas when recently a royal commission recommended the buyout of land that is subject to high risk.
All these issues are keeping lots of people in the area awake. They simply do not have any confidence in the system. They are, as am I, concerned that right from the beginning the minister has had only one view on the proposed development at Narrawong. Right from the beginning people have seen that the Liberal Party has not been interested in listening to alternative and community views other than what was in its own election campaign — and the campaign leading up to the election as well.
Mr Guy said the Glenelg Shire Council was dragging its feet on all these planning issues and that was why he had to seize control of the process. When you talk to people about the work that had been done, this just does not ring true. I refer to an article in the Portland Observer and Guardian of 15 April. It states that:
“… in line with the state government process … As a necessary first step, the council partnered Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD), the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Regional Development Victoria (RDV) –“
in the coastal study that Mr Guy and others have mentioned. That was completed last year, and the council then prepared a position paper to relate this study to the geographical characteristics of each of the 550 allotments in the former development plan overlay 7 area.
Following that we found out that the new Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, and the member for South-West Coast in the Assembly, Denis Napthine, had met with the council on 17 December and had a conversation, but the minister neglected to mention that he had put out a media release that day advising the removal of the development controls over Portland and Narrawong. In his media release he said he had done that because there was ‘no end in sight’, but when you read the article published in the Portland Observer and Guardian of 15 April this year you see that that does not seem to be the case at all. This article quotes Sharon Kelsey, the CEO of the Shire of Glenelg, as saying:
“The coastal engineering study was highlighted again when council wrote to Minister Guy and Dr Napthine on January 7 this year listing options to advance the planning policy and requesting the urgent assistance of government. The council did not receive a reply to these letters.
‘On February 23, Dr Napthine wrote to council requesting an update on four planning permit applications for this area. An update was provided by council the next day. Council’s response was accompanied by the original letter of request for assistance and a subsequent request for state government advice. The council’s letters have never been responded to’, Ms Kelsey said.
On March 11, a senior staff member of DPCD visited the Glenelg shire to convey the minister’s interest in the prompt approval of the planning applications before council. Council asked for this direction to be provided in writing. That written confirmation never came.
Meanwhile council progressed and finalised its position paper.
This process was undertaken with the full knowledge of the DPCD. On viewing the position paper researched and prepared by council staff, the minister’s representative commended the council on the high calibre of the report and the speed at which this work had been completed.
‘As the CEO I was proud to receive this recognition by the minister’s representative on behalf of staff’, Ms Kelsey said.
Any suggestion that the council had been lax in responding to this issue is wrong. It’s completely contrary to the facts. Not only is this issue receiving the priority it deserves and our community expects but the Glenelg Shire Council is at the cutting edge of planning policy. The council is tackling an issue that has been too hard, too difficult for too long for others to be prepared to responsibly act to resolve. But the resolution is there.”
Ms Kelsey is reported as going on to say:
“Regular updates on this issue have been shared with relevant representatives of the government and the minister’s office. The council highlighted that they were only weeks away from drawing together all the expert knowledge to conclude a policy document.
The government was well aware that the council was only weeks away from finalising its policy for referral to the Minister for Planning.”
The article continues:
“On Wednesday of this week the council received formal advice that the Minister for Planning was to become the relevant planning authority for the former DPO 7 area.”
What we have seen here is that the basis on which this intervention has occurred really is lacking in substance. The Glenelg shire has a chain of correspondence that verifies the work and the requests it has made over a long period of time. What are we to conclude then — that the minister might not have liked the direction the council was going in just two weeks before the council voted on its planning policy? Along with Mr Barber I do not know, but it all seems a bit coincidental.
There was a change of government — yes. There was a VCAT decision on 10 December — yes. There was a minister who intervened and prevented a vote by council on a matter that it had been working on diligently for a long time and for which it had received accolades. It is little wonder that a lot of people were quite angry and disappointed by the minister usurping the council. I might add that the council’s excellent professional planning department does not deserve to be skittled at the eleventh hour by a minister who I think, and I am yet to be proven incorrect, is hell bent on another course of action.
I am calling on the minister to give the planning powers back to the council, talk with the wider Narrawong community and engage with the dedicated and committed Friends of the Surry group. Members of the Narrawong group who I met with say that with the minister having the planning controls that stand at the moment, it does not look very good for them in prosecuting their cause, even though they won at VCAT. They believe the government seems obsessed with giving unqualified support for individuals to build on the land they own.
We have a case here where we do not have all the information in front of us but we have such a strong set of circumstances that I can understand why the local community does not have confidence in the planning minister making the right decision in relation to Narrawong.
This issue is too important to be reduced to a slogan that Minister Guy keeps on promulgating — that is, the right of an individual to build on the land they own. If this is to have real meaning, then some key important words need to be added to indicate that one person’s right does not override another person’s right. In this case there also needs to be proper and full consideration of the environment and future generations. Sensitive environments must have sensitive planning, and they must have sensitive structures that sit well within smaller communities, otherwise physical and social cohesion will simply not occur.
In closing, I say again that this is an important issue.
When the minister resorts to name-calling it demeans the tone of the issue and does not assist the debate. I also allude to certain misrepresentations he has promulgated in the media in recent times. I call on the minister to enter into proper discussions. He needs to take a chill pill on this one and listen to all of the concerns raised. I can reliably inform Mr Guy that if the right thing is not done in this situation, this will be the issue that makes him rue the day, because it sets the tone not only in Narrawong but also for the rest of the Victorian coastline.
I implore members in this chamber to vote for Mr Tee’s motion. In particular I call on Mr O’Brien, Mr Ramsay, Mr Koch and the Greens members to vote for this motion so that Narrawong can get on with life and get on with appropriate development.