SPEAKING ON A BILL | PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENT AMENDMENT (DISTINCTIVE AREAS AND LANDSCAPES) BILL 2017

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan): I am a bit surprised by Mr Davis. I thought he was going to use his remaining time, but I am glad he did not. I also rise to speak on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Distinctive Areas and Landscapes) Bill 2017. The bill will strengthen recognition of the state importance of distinctive areas and landscapes and protect the unique features and special characteristics of such areas including landform, historic and cultural environment, natural resources and land productivity, and strategic infrastructure. The bill will also provide enabling legislation to allow for the protection of valued assets locked in the peri-urban regions of Victoria’s major regional cities and other areas for a future time.

The bill was first flagged at the last election when the Andrews Labor government made an election commitment to protect the iconic and historic Macedon Ranges region, promoting jobs by protecting the natural beauty of the ranges and preserving environmental and rural values. That was an election commitment by the Andrews Labor government, and we are today delivering on that commitment. That is why this bill will particularly focus on Macedon, as Macedon, like so many other of Victoria’s peri-urban gems under threat from development pressures, will now have the tools needed to give certainty and protection. For the Macedon Ranges this means the treasured natural landscape will never be encroached upon and townships will grow sustainably.

Part of the Macedon Ranges is in my electorate, and I am very pleased that this bill is before the house. I am pleased Mr Davis, on behalf of the coalition, has indicated his support for the principle or what the bill is designed to do. He spent around 30 minutes talking about his support for the bill. However, he raised —

Mr Morris interjected.

Mr MELHEM — I have not finished, Mr Morris. Then he went on to talk about some concerns he had in relation to some policies which relate to the bill but are not part of the bill. He then flagged some amendments that will be part of the debate when this bill goes to committee, and he went on about some of the concerns he has.

My understanding is that the bill builds on the current legislation in place. I think Mr Davis talked about the statement of planning policy 8 (SPP8), which was introduced back in 1975, but the intent of this bill and SPP8 was to create a whole new toolkit of planning tools, including settlement boundaries et cetera. We say the SPP8 will remain in the planning scheme, at clause 21.01, while the new legislation will deliver more protections. But I suppose there will always be a debate about whether or not this bill meets the requirements, particularly the requirements of Mr Davis, but I think it has always been a hard task trying to satisfy Mr Davis with his views on the world. But I am pleased that he is at least supporting the principle of this bill and what this bill is designed to do even though he is disagreeing on how this bill can be implemented and how the policy will be put in place.

The bill follows on from the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee, which made 12 recommendations in 2017 that the Labor government wholeheartedly accepted. The significant challenges faced in Macedon Ranges are not unique to this area only, and this bill fixes gaps in the current policy framework and allows other highly valued areas to be elevated to state significance. Without this bill Macedon Ranges is under threat from inappropriate development, visual clutter impacting on the distinctive landscape and loss of biodiversity. Its current protection is simply inadequate; doing nothing is not the way to go.

Mr Davis talked about setting the scene for other areas that are in a similar situation to Macedon to make sure we do not increase the population and impact on our current biodiversity and the uniqueness of some of the beautiful places in Victoria like the Macedon Ranges that are simply taken over by bad developers taking advantage of that. The bill basically maintains our understanding that in some areas in town, for example, there is no argument about continuing development but then, when you go outside town, that development might encroach on, for example, rich native vegetation, a unique geological formation, a number of properties on the Victorian Heritage Register list or major water catchment areas. This bill will allow proper recognition and protection.

I think Mr Davis talked about the bill giving too much executive power to the government, but it is my understanding that the Minister for Planning has to consult with the Premier and various other ministers before any changes or any declarations are made under this bill. I think there are enough safeguards in place here to provide the necessary protections. The bill requires that the statement of planning policy be enhanced with thorough community input. This will be a test pilot for other areas, such as those identified in Plan Melbourne, including Bellarine, Yarra Ranges and Mornington Peninsula. The protection and certainty are in contrast to the opposition’s directionless population task force and empty rhetoric around directing growth to the regions because Melbourne is full.

That is the other problem that the bill will address. The opposition was lecturing us earlier about how they do care about these sorts of areas, but again their future direction is basically having open slather in the regions because their view is that Melbourne is full. This bill maintains the current landscape in regional areas and the areas I talked about earlier.

The bill implements action 74 of Plan Melbourne, the government’s blueprint for sustainable growth. This commitment to adopt localised planning statements was developed as part of the extensive consultation that went into Plan Melbourne. As part of developing this bill there has been extensive consultation with stakeholders, particularly the Shire of Macedon because we are talking about the Macedon shire being the first to be affected by this bill, and its input into putting this legislation together has been greatly appreciated. There has been a lot of consultation to make sure we get it right. Landowners and the Aboriginal communities in the region have been consulted as part of this process.

These policies have been prepared with detailed public consultation and are on the public record. Homes for Victorians was adopted in February 2017 and the government’s response to recommendations from Infrastructure Victoria was released in December 2016. As a government we will not be caught up in short-term, opportunistic politics or exploit fears about a growing population but we will responsibly plan for long-term growth. The Planning and Environment Amendment (Distinctive Areas and Landscapes) Bill 2017 will provide a permanent framework. It is being applied for the first time in Macedon and will later be available for other significant areas of Victoria.

It is important that we stick to the intent of this bill, the reason why this bill has been brought to this house and what it is trying to achieve. From what I am hearing from the opposition, they are supporting its intent. I hope, because they have a different view about how the policy framework is going to work into the future and how it will be implemented — and amendments have been circulated by Mr Davis, so I assume we will be going into committee later on — that they do not use their amendments to frustrate the process and basically knock this bill on the head.

I hope common sense will prevail, because this bill will create the right balance and make sure that all the environmental areas are taken care of, that the landscaping and landform are taken care of, that the historical and cultural areas are taken into consideration and also that our natural resources and land productivity are right — that is in relation to water catchments, including dams and reservoirs, timber production and so on. We have also put in place strategic infrastructure and built form criteria, which are part of what this bill is trying to achieve. With those brief comments, I commend the bill to the house.

22 May 2018