Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2015

Ms THOMAS (Macedon) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak in support of the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015. I would like to start by congratulating the Minister for Planning on bringing this bill to the house. I also acknowledge the contribution of Mr Brian Tee who, as the former shadow Minister for Planning, did so much work on the development of this bill.

Planning is a key issue in my electorate of Macedon. Across the electorate many community groups have come together over many years to fight to protect the natural beauty and distinct characteristics of the Macedon Ranges. Throughout my time I have got to know some fantastic local members of my community who are working to preserve the unique characteristics of the village of Macedon and were recently successful, with council support, in stopping an inappropriate development in that little township.

In Gisborne the community has rallied successfully to save the U. L. Daly Reserve from inappropriate development. The community of Woodend is currently campaigning against a development that it believes would potentially destroy the unique beauty and character of its town, and a group called Getting Riddell Right has been campaigning against what it sees as the inappropriate development of a supermarket in the village of Riddells Creek.

Planning is an extremely important issue. It is vitally important in peri-urban electorates such as mine, which are under a lot of pressure as the population in Melbourne increases. They are also under pressure from developers who see an opportunity to make a quick buck without regard to the future and the need to make sure that these unique environments that are under this pressure are protected both now and into the future.

The Macedon Ranges is a region that deserves protection not just for the communities and people who live there but for the whole of Victoria. Because of its easy access from Melbourne, Macedon Ranges provides a fantastic refuge for people from the city. It is an easy drive for people from Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs and many people take advantage of that to come up and enjoy a coffee, a walk or just to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the Macedon Ranges.

Planning is a very important issue in my electorate. I will talk specifically about the bill, but firstly I would like to say that I am delighted that the Minister for Planning and the Labor government have made a commitment that recognises the particular and unique characteristics of the Macedon Ranges to ensure that they are protected against inappropriate development by legislative means. I look forward to the Minister for Planning bringing that to the house.

The Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015 delivers on an election commitment to require the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), where appropriate, to consider the extent of community opposition to permit applications. This commitment was made in response to a concern that VCAT treats extended community opposition as an irrelevant consideration.

We need to be very clear that this is about understanding that the weight or number of objectors is going to be very important in VCAT determinations. This is quite different. Let us look at what occurred under the previous government and the way our planning schemes were administered by the then Minister for Planning, now the Leader of the Opposition. In a paper entitled 2011 — A Year in Review, Stuart Morris, QC, and Emma Peppler note under the heading ‘Backflips’:

In September the media had a field day with the Minister for Planning’s backflip over the zoning of land on Phillip Island in the local government area of Bass Coast shire. Having announced that the site in question would be rezoned for development, at the 11th hour before gazettal the minister changed his mind. Leaving aside the legality of such a reversal, cynics were left asking whether the change of heart was due to the media-catching opposition of Miley Cyrus on Twitter …

Members can be assured that the intent of this bill is about there being a number of objectors, not a celebrity objector, as was the case in influencing a decision by the previous Minister for Planning. The bill makes it clear that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will be required to consider the number of objectors, having no regard to their celebrity or otherwise. This is a very important bill and one that will be welcomed in my electorate of Macedon. Again, I congratulate the Minister for Planning on his efforts to ensure that we protect both regional Victoria and, importantly, the suburbs of Melbourne from inappropriate development. I commend the bill to the house.