Ordered that second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard on motion of Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills).
Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
Incorporated speech as follows:
This Planning and Building Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability and Other Matters) Bill 2017 introduces amendments to both the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Building Act 1993 and related building legislation. It contains provisions relating to affordable housing (which I will discuss shortly), minor building-related amendments and provisions to facilitate the processing of variations to certain wind farm permits.
Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to the important issue of affordable housing. Everyone deserves the safety and security of their own home, but for many Victorians that dream has become increasingly elusive. So, the Andrews government is doing what we can to build a brighter, more sustainable future, and to help more people break into the housing market.
We recently announced a series of sweeping reforms through the Victorian housing strategy Homes for Victorians: Affordability, Access and Choice that will deliver lasting benefits across Victoria. The reforms target housing affordability and choice, and the long-term planning for housing and growth across Melbourne and the regions.
The strategy has a number of significant reforms. We understand that developers want to give something back to the community they are investing in. Providing affordable housing to Victorians who need it most is a great way of ensuring that the community benefits from new development. We are going to encourage a voluntary benefits scheme, and develop a clear framework for how these arrangements can be applied. This will include amending the Victorian planning provisions and state planning policy framework to give statutory effect to their delivery as a legitimate planning outcome.
This bill proposes to amend the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to establish a clear framework for voluntary arrangements relating to affordable housing. These reforms propose to insert a legal definition of ‘affordable housing’ into the act, and also make it a specific objective of the act to facilitate affordable housing. The reforms will also insert new provisions to enable a council to enter into a voluntary agreement with a landowner for the development or provision of land for affordable housing.
This framework will give developers, the community and local councils certainty about how a voluntary contributions scheme will be applied to support the development of land for affordable housing.
To support these legislative reforms, an order in council will be prepared to provide an explanation of the definition. Non-statutory ministerial guidelines will be developed to provide guidance on matters that a council may have regard to when negotiating an agreement. Lastly, a model agreement will be prepared to encourage ‘best practice’ and to provide consistency.
Amendments to called-in wind farm permits
The bill also contains important amendments which will streamline the process for amending wind farm planning permits. The proposed changes in process will only apply to applications to amend wind farm permits that have been issued by the minister after being called in for determination.
Currently it is mandatory that any objection to an application to amend a called-in permit be referred to a planning panel where that objection is made within time. The panel must hold a hearing and give interested parties the opportunity to be heard. The panel process takes several months minimum due to the hearing process, and the time taken to write the panel report. This process can also increase an applicant’s costs, due to the need for legal representation, expert witness reports and panel costs.
In contrast, where a permit is granted by a council (rather than being called in and granted by the minister), any objections to an application to amend that permit will not require a panel process. That is, the amendment application in that case can be decided without a panel process, even if there are objections.
Applications to amend called-in permits for wind farms have highlighted the time delay and cost issues with the mandatory panel process. There can be high demand from wind farm permit holders to amend their called-in permits, for example, to use larger turbines and reduce the number of turbines.
The proposed changes to the act will enable planning schemes to specify certain classes of applications to amend called-in wind farm permits that will be exempt from the requirement to refer objections to a panel. Objections may still be lodged in relation to those amendment applications, and the minister will still be required to consider those objections as part of the decision-making process on the application.
The proposed changes to the act will also provide that for amendment applications in the specified class that are not exempt, any objections to those applications will instead be referred to a standing advisory committee established under the act, instead of a panel. The committee will provide transparent and independent advice to the minister, and will be directed to report within a specified time frame.
Building legislation amendments
Clause 11 of the bill amends section 180 of the Building Act 1993. The current provision provides for immediate suspension of a registered building practitioner if the practitioner is insolvent under administration or is an officer of a body corporate that is insolvent under administration. But advice indicates that the way the provision has been drafted does not, as a matter of law, provide a ground for immediate suspension if a registered building practitioner is an officer of a body corporate that is under external administration within the meaning of the corporations law. The amendment corrects this technical problem so that there are grounds for immediate suspension of a registered building practitioner who is a natural person if the practitioner is an insolvent under administration or is an officer of a body corporate that is subject to external administration within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001.
Clauses 12 and 13 have the effect of excluding the ability of a local council to prosecute the indictable offence in section 16B of the act. The government is committed to only prosecuting the indictable offence in the most serious of cases. This commitment is secured through the operational policy of the Victorian Building Authority (VBA). The amendment means that operational policy concerning the indictable offence will be centralised with the VBA.
Furthermore councils are not well equipped to investigate and prosecute indictable offences. Where a council or municipal building surveyor believes an indictable offence may have been committed in its municipality it can refer the matter to VBA. VBA will then consider the issue in light of its operational policy and may take up the matter, or, if it considers the indictable offence should not be prosecuted, may take other enforcement action, or may refer the matter back to council to action, as is appropriate. VBA will shortly circulate its updated operational policy on the indictable offence to councils.
I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned for Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) on motion of Mr Ondarchie.
Debate adjourned until Thursday, 17 August.