Planning: Amendments C119 And C104

Mr WYYNE (Richmond) – I rise to make an initial contribution on behalf of the Opposition and to indicate that it does not oppose either of these planning amendments. However, in doing so it is important that we recognise that where a planning scheme amendment impacts upon a green wedge area it is appropriate that the Parliament have the opportunity to scrutinise such incursions.

As you might recall, Speaker, you were in the house when I opened debate on behalf of the Opposition in relation to a very significant intervention by the Government into the green wedge via a planning scheme amendment. As I recall, somewhere in the order of 4000 hectares was to be annexed out of the green wedge in that instance. It is not surprising then that the Opposition took the view that this was a very significant intervention by the State. It is important to have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate such amendments in the Parliament, particularly as they relate to green wedge land. The Opposition does not oppose amendments C119 and C104.

I will now turn to the substance of these two amendments. The first amendment, C104, is an amendment to the Cardinia planning scheme and will remove a small amount of land from the green wedge in Maryknoll, a township about 12 kilometres outside of Pakenham. Indeed I believe, Speaker, this land is in your part of the world. I took the opportunity, as my colleague the member for Essendon will be making a contribution after me, to look in a bit more detail at some of the background to the Maryknoll settlement. This parcel of land has some very interesting history, linked as it is with the Catholic Church. The subject land for rezoning is in the order of 26.5 hectares of land that is located at 13 and 15 Wheeler Road and 310 Snell Road, Maryknoll.

A report conducted by an independent panel on this parcel of land of 26.5 hectares indicates that Maryknoll was founded in 1949 by Father Wilfred Pooley as a planned rural community that would include local industries owned and controlled by the community. It was innovative, designed as it was by town planners and architects, with the only proviso that the church have a central position. Given who sponsored this particular community, it is not surprising that the church would form a central element.

The first building was a temporary church and school, followed by a small cottage used as a presbytery. The Maryknoll plan also included farming activities to be run by a cooperative society. A dairy was built in 1966 and remained in operation until 1972. Other Maryknoll industries included the building industry, a poultry farm, a cordial factory converted to a steel manufacturer in 1974 and a hardware shop that opened in Nar Nar Goon in 1996.

It is interesting to note that the thinking behind the development of this relatively closed parcel of land was that it would be used as a residential property, operate in a cooperative format, offer employment and also include a level of spirituality. That is my understanding of the Maryknoll project. It was interesting to find out more about the cooperative movement run for quite some time by the Catholic Church. I had been aware that the Catholic Church ran a cooperative building society; in fact my oldest sister got her home loan through that cooperative or what we would now designate as a building society. There was a very strong emphasis within the Catholic Church at that time on embracing the cooperative movement, both through the Maryknoll example but also through the broader community of Melbourne, in offering finance packages and so forth for home ownership. I think it is a very interesting part of history. Obviously Maryknoll does not operate in that context anymore.

As I understand it, the only extant activity there now is the broiler farm, which still exists. Nonetheless what is important about this land is that it is located in a green wedge zone that borders industrial and low-density residential zones and was described in the 1995 Maryknoll strategic planning review as a potential limited growth site. It was then incorporated into the Maryknoll township policy in 1999 and subsequently into the Cardinia planning scheme.
This land has been considered by the council and received its support for the rezoning process. This is a very good example of where the council has gone out in a very thorough way to consult. The council circulated plans across the entire Maryknoll community to residents via post, including the local progress association. It put public notices in local papers and contacted a range of interested parties. There was a submission process and a panel process and 48 submissions were received.

It is interesting to note that they were pretty well split straight down the middle. There were 22 in support, 21 opposed and 5 who essentially took a neutral position. The usual range of issues you would expect were canvassed in the process, including issues around traffic — conflict with other users of the road network — potential impacts on the creek, native vegetation issues, some arguments about the detrimental impact on the landscape and consideration of the potential for flooding. Some people argued in a higher level sense that this was an excessive rezoning.

However, on balance, members of not only the Maryknoll community but, more broadly, the community in that area, were given the opportunity for their voices to be heard. We had a panel process and subsequently the council considered a range of matters that were reflected through that panel process, and I think it is generally agreed that the type of development we are going to get is of low impact and appropriate for the future use of that land.

I make those comments because it is important that when we seek to rezone land such as this, particularly when land within the green wedge area is impacted on, we scrutinise the process in a way that ensures that there has been a proper process around it. I think the process the Cardinia Shire Council has undertaken is by any objective measure a thorough process and one that would hold up to any level of public scrutiny. The transparent way in which the council and panel process was undertaken gives comfort to the Government and to the Opposition that the process was extremely well handled. In that context from the point of view of the opposition I submit that is a very good way to take these sorts of amendments forward.

I turn now to amendment 119 to the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges regional strategy plan, which further implements a recommendation on fire safety within the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges region. The Opposition supports this amendment, but it would be remiss of me not to say in passing that the decision by the government today in relation to the fire services levy is going to be hotly opposed by local government, and the government knows it. I indicated to the parliamentary secretary that local government, quite rightly, is outraged about the decision and the fact that the Municipal Association of Victoria was not consulted prior to the decision being made.

I make the point that — —

Mr Clark interjected.

Mr WYNNE — The Attorney-General says ‘Back to the bill’. This particular amendment implements, as the Attorney-General said, recommendations that arise out of the bushfires royal commission — —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WYNNE — It does. Obviously the fire services levy was also a part of that conversation. I say no more, except to indicate that this will be a hotly contested matter in the local government sector.

This motion seeks to implement amendments to the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges regional strategy plan, and the opposition will not be opposing those changes. According to section 46D(1)(c) of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, amendments affecting the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges regional strategy plan of course must be approved by both houses of Parliament in the same way as we debated and scrutinised the green wedge amendment. This motion will amend the strategy plan so that bushfire protection provisions implemented by the government statewide through planning scheme amendment VC83 will now apply to the Shire of Yarra Ranges.

As I indicated, the VC83 planning scheme changes followed the final report of the bushfires royal commission, and those changes were not opposed. In fact, as I recall it, they were supported unanimously by all members of this house. VC83 follows on from the previous government’s interim measures designed to protect properties in bushfire-prone areas.

VC83 introduced section 52.48 to the planning scheme, which makes exemptions for requiring a permit which include creating a defendable space around buildings used for accommodation, vegetation removal along a fence line, buildings and works associated with a community fire refuge and buildings and works associated with a private bushfire shelter.

The most substantive change in VC83 from the previous government’s position as it applies to the planning scheme is to extend the 10/30 rights to 10/50 rights –that is, that no permit is required for the removal of vegetation except trees within 50 metres rather than 30 metres of a building used for accommodation that existed prior to 2009. I think this is quite a reasonable and sensible amendment because, as we know, this is a heavily vegetated and treed area. It is a unique environment and one that is fiercely protected by those communities, who feel deeply about these issues.

One of the struggles Opposition members had when we were in government was trying to balance not competing demands but the aspirations of the community and protecting the environment, counterpoised against the broader public policy questions of ensuring that we provided a broad framework within which communities were able not only to understand how to address fire prevention strategies but also to provide a consistent response to that. That has been quite a tricky exercise with which I am sure the government has also had to struggle. There is always the potential for such competing outcomes to be addressed from either a community perspective or that of the broader government policy. That is quite a challenge.

When we were in government — and I am sure it is the same for this government — protecting the overall safety of the community had to be the all-prevailing interest. That is self-evidently so. We never want to go back to circumstances such as the tragic bushfires which caused such an enormous loss of life. Those communities still struggle, as my colleague the member for Yan Yean will speak about in her contribution. She, like many other members, knows what it has meant for those communities to try to rebuild since their absolute devastation and the horrendous loss of life.

The Opposition thinks the amendments in this motion are important. In December last year Yarra Ranges Shire Council supported the change to its planning scheme, but there was still some need for further public consultation about it. In this context we need to remain vigilant in listening to the needs of the community, particularly of communities where there are contested public policy outcomes, and bringing the community with us. The whole clearance matter has been quite a contested issue for communities, and continuing the conversation with and support for communities in the implementation of the amendments is vital to the outcome. Local government has an absolutely fundamental role to play in that, and I am pleased the council has taken positive steps and supported the amendments moved in the motion.

In summary I say from the point of view of opposition members that our interest in these issues, particularly around planning scheme amendments, will always be that we seek to look at them critically. We want to ensure that the process is fair, transparent and open and that there is an intimate, crucial and central role for local government in that.

We do not want to find ourselves in a situation, as we have seen before under a planning scheme amendment, where a massive incursion occurs into the green wedge — of 4000 hectares in that case. One of the greatest legacies of a former government — and, can I say, a legacy of a former Liberal government and its Premier, Sir Rupert Hamer — is that we have green wedges. As a Parliament and as elected representatives we must remain vigilant and, as far as we can, hold true to the visionary work of Sir Rupert Hamer, who laid out the green wedges as land that ought to be protected, not in the interest of an individual but in the broader public interest. It will remain one of the great legacies of Sir Rupert’s time as Premier of this state, because it was visionary and extraordinary leadership on his part. In a bipartisan way, I acknowledge that.

Maintaining that vigilance means that at every point we should look at any incursion into those green wedge areas to see whether they make sense. Is it a sensible thing that a parcel of land be taken out of the green wedge?

What are the justifications for its being taken out of the green wedge? Have the parcels of land that may have been extracted been tested through a thorough and rigorous public process? Has the voice of the local community been heard in that conversation? Has the voice of the local council been heard in that conversation prior to this motion coming to this Parliament? In relation particularly to the Maryknoll proposal there is no doubt that the Cardinia council has done a good job with that. That is why we are comfortable to stand here today and offer our support for this planning scheme amendment and what we regard as sensible measures encompassed in the second amendment to address clearance and fire prevention issues.