Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I agree with one thing we have heard from the opposition, and that is that Melbourne is the most livable city in the world. Everything else we have heard from the opposition is a complete joke. The bill we are talking about today, the Planning and Environment Amendment (VicSmart Planning Assessment) Bill 2012, delivers yet another election commitment of the Baillieu government. We are delivering on our election commitments, and an important part of those is ensuring that planning is streamlined and there is a smooth process for planning approvals in Victoria.
In any planning laws we need four consistent measures: we need a balanced approach, we need consistency, we need certainty and we need speed in terms of when planning applications are taken into consideration. The amendments in this bill certainly ensure that these measures are implemented.
We heard from the member for Derrimut, who mentioned the concern that third-party appeal rights are being taken away — that is, if somebody builds a pergola, that pergola might overshadow the next property and cause problems for the neighbours, and we are taking away the right of third-party appeal. Let us be real when we talk about this legislation. Firstly, we are looking at legislation under which a council officer will assess planning applications against a clear, predetermined set of criteria. It will not be a free-for-all. If you want a pergola or a new fence, it will not be a matter of getting a quick permit and away you go. There will be a clear set of criteria so that every party is clear about the process.
Most importantly, this bill represents a balanced and sensible approach, and residents will know where they stand. That is the important part of this legislation: residents will know where they stand right from the beginning. Under the previous government and the former minister, the current member for Essendon, people did not know where they stood when it came to planning. It was a toss of the coin. It was a free-for-all, and you did not know what was going to happen in terms of planning outcomes. What we are doing here is ensuring certainty, ensuring speed and unclogging the system.
We have heard from opposition members that the best approach to planning is to throw more money at it. They think that the way to speed up the application process in Victoria is to put on more staff and process more applications. The quickest and easiest process for fixing anything, according to the opposition, is to just throw more money at it and it will fix itself. Fortunately the government of the day, our government, takes a more sensible approach to managing money. That is what we have been elected to do — to be more prudent in our expenditure and to ensure that every decision we make is a responsible decision and that we are not taking a radical approach but a sensible approach to everything we do. Planning is one of those very important things.
Planning is certainly an important issue in my electorate of Caulfield. Planning concerns are probably raised in my office on a daily basis. The biggest concern that has been raised by my constituents is that of uncertainty — not only uncertainty but also the time it takes to deal with very minor issues.
This legislation that the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has delivered is sensible. It is smart by name, and it is smart by nature. The reason it is sensible is that minor planning application permits of up to $50 000 will be able to be assessed and moved through a quick process within a short time frame, and in a matter of days — not months, not years, but days — applicants can actually have a permit. If you need a new fence and it complies with planning regulations for the area and has been assessed by a council officer, you will be able to have a permit within days and bring on builders, creating more jobs and more economic activity. This makes that process smoother.
We already see councils clogged up with planning issues. At VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) we see people waiting for years to get decisions in some instances. Why is VCAT clogged up? It is clogged up with time delays in relation to unnecessary issues that are put before it, because up until now we have not had an efficient and streamlined planning permit process.
That is what we are delivering: efficiency and a streamlined process.
If you look at planning in Victoria at the moment, you see that we have 50 000 planning applications lodged and 37 per cent of those are for works valued at less than $50 000. They are small applications and without the legislation before the house people could take months and in some cases years to negotiate their way through works as minor as these. With this bill we will be able to take 37 per cent of these applications and have them processed within 10 days. What does the current process involve? The average time is 55 days — that is, 55 days spent waiting for a permit for a new pergola or a new fence.
We came to government with a clear commitment to cut red tape. These are not just words; these are actions. This bill is part of continuing to deliver when it comes to cutting red tape.
A commitment to cut red tape by 25 per cent across the board — to go on the record and say, ‘This is what we are going to do’ — is certainly a very big commitment on the part of any government. We, however, have taken the front foot, have been positive and have decided to do that, and the only way we are going to do it is to do it across the board — in all portfolios and in all areas of government. That means anything we do needs to be done in an efficient and sensible way. That is what this bill takes into account.
I want to relate to members a relevant example from my electorate. I refer to a park in the middle of Caulfield Racecourse. It is an area of open space I have been working on and which we are returning back to the community. It is Crown land, and we are creating five different precincts, including a sporting precinct, a jogging track and fishing areas, and enabling a whole range of different activities for the community. This park should be open now, and people should be using it. It was held up for 12 months.
Why was it held up for 12 months? Because we had one lady — one person in the whole electorate — who took an issue about the park to VCAT. This individual did not like the surface that has been put forward for the jogging track. She wanted a hard surface, not a soft surface, believing a harder surface would be better for joggers.
Needless to say, everyone has a right and a view, but when you look at this project you can see that it has taken up to 12 months to get going and you can think of all the individuals, families and other people in my electorate who have been unable to use that park because of one individual who took the matter to VCAT. She waited 12 months, and when the matter finally got to VCAT, guess what happened? She pulled out. She decided she was not going to go through with it. She had had second thoughts: ‘Maybe a soft track might be better after all’.
This is the sort of thing we need to fix up. We need to ensure that we have better, smoother and more consistent planning and that people understand where they stand right from the very beginning. The worst thing any government can deliver is uncertainty. The worst thing any government can deliver is a process in which one decision does not match a related decision simply because of whatever is decided on the day — because of the ‘It’ll be all right on the day’ attitude.
In this debate we have heard an absolute basket of rubbish from the opposition. We have heard a whole lot of claims to the effect that these changes will mean high-rises and people not being able to appeal against them. It is all of this Chicken Little stuff: the sky’s falling in. I tell you what: the Labor opposition is very good at never letting the truth get in the way of a very good story. This form of legislation is a great story. It is a great story for Victorian residents. We should all be behind this in our electorates, because it is great for every single one of our residents to know that in terms of their planning and their neighbours when they have something they want to fix and improve in their homes they will not have to wait for 12 months or two years. They will be able to get an application to have their fence or their house fixed up determined within 10 days in a speedy consistent process, meaning they can get on with their lives and not have government interfering in their lives — especially not the government they had interfering in their lives for 11 years.
Finally, our government is getting on with the job, doing what it has been elected to do, fixing the problems and building the opportunities for Victorians.