I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Planning and Environment Amendment (VicSmart Planning Assessment) Bill 2012.
I will make a short contribution that will address the points that Labor has concerns about.
This bill purports to streamline the planning process and cut red tape. Labor supports these aims, but not at the expense of communities. Labor supports individuals and councils being fully informed and having the ability to comment on and take planning matters to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Only the applicant can appeal to VCAT. We believe that this in itself is an extraordinary measure. Only developers can go to the adjudicator.
The bill also concentrates decision making into the hands of the few. It concentrates planning decisions with the local government CEO, not with councils, and the CEO is not to consider any submissions.
I must say that the CEOs I have had conversations with in western Victoria have told me that they feel quite uncomfortable with the level of responsibility that they will have as a result of this bill being passed.
The bill gives developers a range of avenues to pursue their imperatives, while other groups have little or no access to information or indeed process. It is quite disconcerting to have a situation where applications fall within a category that is called ‘class of permits’ and where VCAT is exempt from considering four major areas — and those exceptions include regional strategies. I am particularly concerned about this area because those strategies have been worked on intensively by regional personnel from a whole heap of stakeholder groups in regional Victoria. They have been heavily involved and have enormous buy-in to ensure that the shape of their local and regional communities are fulfilled in a way that meets the vision they have in mind.
VCAT has also been exempted from considering the objectives of planning in Victoria. It has been exempted from considering the state government’s environment protection policy under the Environment Protection Act 1970 and from considering the extent to which persons who own land or reside in the vicinity were able to participate in the decision-making processes. That last point actually flags the enormous concern that Labor has, because the government has actually had to spell out how individuals who might have issues with a development are not to have their voices heard by VCAT. Planning reform really does need the support of key stakeholders, but it also needs the general support of the broader community. Members on this side of the chamber argue that the bill before us tonight simply does not do this.
Many people have mentioned that Melbourne is a livable city. I checked my email today and did some googling. It was announced today that Melbourne has received a gold medal for being the most livable city in the world for the second consecutive year. That is a timely reminder, because we all know that Melbourne has not only a spectacular natural environment but also a very unique built environment. That is something that just does not happen on its own, and protecting that does not happen on its own. It is a very fine balancing act.
Appropriate development and amenities are key to maintaining Melbourne’s status as a highly agreeable city to live in. I believe this bill will undermine the imperatives that are required to establish a mature and sophisticated city. The bill simply does not have the checks and balances to ensure that the right elements are in place and that our cities are protected. I also believe it creates increased scope for inappropriate development to occur.
If we are talking about planning reform, I would point to the fact that delays in the system seem to be the issue that confront most of the people I speak to. The main complaints I receive in my electorate are in relation to delays in the planning process not only at a departmental level but also at a ministerial level. Time and money is going down the drain while applicants wait for approvals, and applicants wait for months and months on end.
There was a recent example in south-western Victoria where a Mr Graeme Rodger had had some issues for some considerable time. Some action has recently taken place, but Mr Rodger, his lawyers and a whole team of other people have had to undertake a massive campaign at all sorts of levels, including letter writing as well as dealing with the media, to try to get something happening with this government.
In terms of streamlining processes and cutting red tape, I strongly recommend that this government properly fund planning processes as soon as possible. These are the areas that are in need of change, not what is being pushed by this government in the Planning and Environment Amendment (VicSmart Planning Assessment) Bill 2012.
Mrs Peulich alluded to the ‘Minority report on Planning and Environment Amendment (VicSmart Planning Assessment) Bill 2012’. Included in it is the statement:
“The bill removes those notification protection provisions. The bill also removes their existing provisions of access to VCAT.”
That is contained in the minority report, which was signed by Colin Brooks, Christine Campbell and Don Nardella.
In closing I simply encourage members of this house to vote against this bill.