Contribution to Debate (Second Reading)
Today I rise to make a contribution to the Victorian Planning Authority Bill 2016. I have been listening to the contributions since we started debating this bill. We are throwing rocks at each other from each side. We are listening to Labor’s way of building their utopia through the planning schemes and schedules, but what I am hearing is the noise of investors and those who create the jobs and prosperity in Victoria zipping up their pockets and whipping up the horses to get away; it is absolutely deafening. To those that understand the frustrations and complexities of the planning system in Victoria, the title of this bill says it all. Not only will we have a Planning and Environment Act 1987 but we now have a bill proposing an additional layer — a layer upon a layer, like a marble cake — of bureaucracy and red tape with the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA).In effect this bill proposes to extend the current Growth Areas Authority’s responsibilities and functions from the presently designated and limited areas of Victoria to all areas of our state and add a whole lot more powers. This bill also takes up many, if not most, of the present roles, responsibilities and functions of those parts of the Minister for Planning’s department involved in planning activities and effectively hands them to the new VPA. This bill provides the minister with far-reaching powers to control the Victorian Planning Authority to a considerably greater extent than exists over current council planning powers under the Planning and Environment Act 1987.
There are a significant number of unanswered questions. What I find troubling is: does this mean that the minister’s department is the responsible party for planning matters, and all those public servant jobs will be made redundant? Does it mean their jobs will be rolled over into the new VPA, or does it mean it will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to the planning processes? While the proposed VPA under this bill and the Planning and Environment Act both remain in place, the only conclusion can be the latter: it will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to the planning process.
This bill establishes very wideranging powers, which are very similar to, if not identical or possibly even greater than, those of municipal councils in their planning and responsible authority roles. Why would the state of Victoria need another authority doing the same job as councils? Does the Andrews Labor government think that councils are inadequately undertaking their planning functions and roles? If this is the case, the government should come clean and just say it. Does this mean that the planning roles of municipal councils will be withdrawn as the VPA progressively takes up the planning and responsible authority roles currently held by councils? If this is the case, just come clean and say it.
I note that the bill does require the VPA to collaborate with local government. Clearly, given that the VPA has potential jurisdiction over the entire state and is charged with advising the minister, in times of difference of opinion or dispute, say between a council and the VPA, the VPA position would be expected to prevail. Where would that leave council planning roles? The writing would seem to be clearly on the wall for local government.
It is very widely recognised that the planning system in Victoria is in a horrible state of affairs. As a consequence of systemic meddling by the Andrews government, we have some very ill thought through and poorly coordinated state planning policies which skew the planning agenda, and a good number of council planning departments and decision-making processes are in a mess. There is substantial system breakdown and failure. The current planning system under the Andrews government is broken and has largely become dysfunctional. It is a deterrent to economic development, particularly in rural and regional Victoria. More red tape will only add to the malaise.
This sort of dysfunction and uncertainty within the system has enabled, and under this bill increasingly will enable, poor and corrupt decision-making. Indeed it will make it much easier for councils in the short term to consider state legislation, regulation and particularly planning scheme provisions as optional in their decision-making. Ultimately perhaps this will justify the VPA taking over all planning roles and functionality. But this is all about waiting, and in time we will see what comes from it.
It is time for a root and branch review, no doubt, and I think successive governments have recognised this. Like I say, we need a root and branch review of planning in Victoria, and perhaps clandestinely and with stealth this bill is the start. Perhaps the real agenda is to entrench statutory and strategic planning as a state function dictated by the minister and to progressively withdraw the powers and influence of local government. This would be consistent with other regionalisation and dilution of local government influences established under the Andrews government.
Mr Foley interjected.
Mr TILLEY — See, I am hitting a bit of a sore point here. Obviously you have got something else to tell us. I say this is not the way to deal with the planning malaise in Victoria. What is needed is an open and honest process that clearly sets out the real agenda and the desired end result. This bill smacks of uncoordinated, incremental, political and bureaucratic meddling with no clearly revealed agenda or overall structural plan.
Perhaps this bill is another example of the bureaucracy tail wagging the Andrews Labor government dog. A learned person with very wide experience inside the public service once said that all one needs to remember is that the purpose and function of the bureaucracy is to enhance and expand the bureaucracy; absolutely everything else is incidental. No offence to the bureaucrats and many others — and no doubt we have a significant number of those listening in today to this debate — as they do their job exceedingly well in most cases, but the ideologically compliant Andrews government once again will have the tail wagging the dog.
Given the track record of this far-left Labor government and the proposal under this bill to hand extensive powers to the minister and to increase the layers of bureaucracy and red tape in the planning system, those people with their own hard-earned funds to invest could be forgiven for looking beyond Victoria.
Unless there is a further and subsequent agenda that has not been revealed, this bill establishes another layer in the land use and development process. Under this bill it is not only conceivable but also very likely that approvals will need to be obtained from the VPA and the local council, and although the bill requires the VPA to collaborate with council, local policies and interpretations are very likely to be divergent at times, leading to gridlock and unnecessary greater expense for all parties.
This bill is vague in respect to how the VPA will be funded. The VPA is to be a corporate entity in its own right, but there is no clear ability for it to make an income to sustain itself. The VPA is to be charged with the role of administering the growth areas infrastructure contribution fund and would seem to have powers to levy other developer contributions. It presumably has the power to charge the minister for advice provided on request or for functions undertaken at the minister’s direction, as well as to charge other agencies and organisations — again presumably including councils it assists or for which it undertakes projects or roles, either as requested by councils or as directed by the minister.
Going on, this smacks of the Andrews Labor government putting its hand in private citizens’ and developers’ pockets again and potentially causing more cost shifting to local government ratepayers.
I certainly recognise that some councils are struggling in both their planning and responsible authority roles. Indeed I have a rather constant flow of complaints and a number of people pay visits to my office regarding council planning in my electoral district of Benambra, but this bill only serves to further complicate the system and processes, and I say fundamental change in the way planning legislative control is structured and undertaken in Victoria is overdue. However, if this bill is any indication, I would be very concerned should that change be undertaken by this inept, far-left Andrews Labor government.
Certainly there are a number of points that need clarification, including how this new beast — this new layer cake — will be funded, who is paying who, who is doing what. That is not to say that there is no place for a proper statutory authority — I agree with that — with arms-length character and purpose, because there is a role for such a body. However, this bill does not create a true statutory authority in that manner. On that note, I certainly look forward to hearing the outcomes and answers to some of the questions I have raised in the last 10 minutes, and let us see what happens in the future towards what is hopefully prosperity and the future growth of our great state of Victoria.