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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9339

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (21:17): I have much to say this evening on the topic of the growth boundaries of Melbourne, but I think I will spare a moment to begin my contribution by remarking that members will know that the federal government has invested a record $20 billion in an affordable housing agenda, including a $6 billion investment in social housing which was opposed by the Liberals and Nationals in this place. It was part of our stimulus package and unfortunately it was conveniently forgotten by the previous speaker in this evening's grievance debate. Despite this, and despite years of underinvestment by the Howard government, including a 30 per cent reduction in spending on public and community housing during the Howard years, there is a great deal more work to be done in the context of housing affordability and availability in Australia. It would be worth members such as those preceding me this evening bearing that in mind in their contributions in this place.

Returning to my contribution to this evening's grievance debate, there has been discussion in recent weeks about the growth boundaries of Melbourne, the quality of life that we presently experience in our city, housing availability and affordability and the likely shape of our city's future. It is not a conversation confined to Melbourne. It is one which most of our nation's big cities face. It is a timely discussion in Melbourne, however, given recent decisions of the Baillieu government in relation to the expansion of our urban growth boundary. It is also timely since our city has recovered, happily, its 'World's Most Livable City' gong. Whatever stock one puts in the global livability survey's findings, it does present an opportunity for us all to consider what makes our cities right around the country livable.

The survey measures cities against categories of health care, culture and environment, stability, education and infrastructure. While I tend to think of those characteristics as reflecting the desirability of a city, livability surely must also consider other factors, including the sources of local employment available to residents, the availability of transport and the affordability of housing across all parts of the city. In 2009 COAG's objective in reforming capital city strategic planning was:

To ensure Australian cities are globally competitive, productive, sustainable, liveable and socially inclusive and are well placed to meet future challenges and growth.

While this is a comprehensive and laudable objective, it presents a very complex set of criteria to satisfy, particularly in the context of the rates of growth facing many of our major cities. The COAG expert advisory panel which recently reviewed our capital city strategic planning systems has emphasised that Australia is at a critical point in the development of its cities. It noted that factors such as population growth, demographic change, increasing energy costs and the transition to a knowledge-based economy all have changed many of the assumptions inherent in the development of our cities.

I cannot hope to address all of those issues comprehensively in a brief debate this evening but I will make a start. The pressures of growth and the balancing act of urban planning are especially relevant to my own electorate of La Trobe. Two of the four local government areas within my electorate are Cardinia and Casey. Cardinia Shire, with a population of over 77,000 residents, has reported that it is the third fastest growing municipality in Australia, behind only Wyndham and Melton. In the last 10 years its population has grown by some 60 per cent, with predictions that the next 10 years will see the population reach around 130,000—bigger than Darwin today. The city of Casey, with a population of 240,000, is Victoria's most populous municipality. About 7,600 people are moving into Casey every year, it is estimated. Together these municipalities are expected to have a population of over half a million by 2030. Seventy-six per cent of workers who live in Casey drive to work, compared with 65 per cent across Melbourne, and seven per cent use public transport or walk to work compared with 14 per cent across Melbourne.

The Victorian government's expansion of the urban growth boundary will see further residential development and several new suburbs on the fringe of Melbourne as the city's boundary expands by around 6,000 hectares. The federal government's national urban policy describes some of the difficulties facing growth corridors. It notes that large distances between housing developments and key centres of employment is a growing problem in these areas. It notes that this can limit social and economic opportunities and puts strain on transport infrastructure. The policy discusses the establishment of local employment precincts and looks at the improvement of skills and the participation of local workforces as ways to enhance liveability, reduce commuting times and promote economic prosperity.

Members will know that under federal Labor investment in skills and education has been almost doubled. The uncapping of university places has resulted in a 25 per cent expansion in the number of students taking up tertiary education across Victoria. In my electorate of La Trobe we fared even better, with a 36 per cent increase in students taking tertiary study as a result of Labor's reforms. This alone will have very long-term positive impacts on opportunities for residents, the development of industry and our local economy. It will also be important that we encourage new industry in regions such as mine to support a growing population.

The federal government's infrastructure spending in Victoria has also gone from around $89 per person under the Howard government to $201 per Victorian today. This more than doubles the annual infrastructure spending that was in place when we came to office. All told, we are providing an unprecedented $6.8 billion from our six-year nation-building program to rebuild and renew Victoria's road, rail and public transport infrastructure. These kinds of investments need to be supported by sensible state planning policy schemes. Their effectiveness relies in part on state and territory governments making thoughtful decisions about the expansion of their cities' boundaries. Their effectiveness also relies on state governments putting their hands in their pockets to support infrastructure rather than just putting their hands out.

The Hawke-Keating government promoted the use of brownfield sites for residential development and the current national urban policy also includes a focus on infill development. It is a difficult balance to get right, the balance between greenfield development and infill development. But in view of the recent expansion of the urban growth boundary by the Victorian government many are questioning whether Melbourne is in fact getting that balance right. I think it would be worth looking much more closely at the potential for increased infill development to reduce our reliance on greenfield development. While it might be easier for policymakers to rely on the abundance of new land available for residential development, there are complex problems that the continued expansion of the growth boundary presents. How do we meet increased infrastructure costs for new communities? Specifically, how do we meet the costs of public transport, road transport, new schools, hospitals and other important services and amenities? As our population ages, will we have the workforce to sustain the upkeep of such infrastructure?

How do we respond to increasing car dependency? How far is reasonable for residents of new estates to travel each day to work, school and leisure activities? Perhaps less obvious are the implications for social inclusion and the risks of social isolation. Many of us are very aware that it takes a great deal of effort to establish community support services. Setting up a community organisation, a legal service or a welfare service in a new community with limited transport options and residents who are time poor is undoubtedly difficult. These are often the means by which those people on the margins of our society are supported. In new residential estates, the potential for compounding social isolation because of a lack of support services is high.

For these reasons, and because I am concerned that we are encroaching on land which is of high environmental importance or has significant agricultural value, it seems to me that we should be considering much more thoroughly the potential for development of infill sites. To that end, I have been interested in the work being undertaken by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute in relation to what they call greyfield sites. These are sections of land in inner and middle suburbs, occupied but under-utilised, where residential buildings are failing through a lack of modernising investment. They are buildings in which energy, water and communications infrastructure is often in need of upgrade. Their report, titled Towards a new development model for housing regeneration in greyfield residential precincts suggests that taking greyfield precincts the size of around 10 suburban lots and redeveloping them in a coordinated manner would be effective. Working on a larger scale than the usual one- or two-lot developments could lead to a much more efficient design to enable greater density and diversity of housing, with resulting improvements for affordability and sustainability.

The report suggests that there is potential for improved medium density housing, as well as high-quality public spaces, consolidation of car parking and space for commercial and business premises. As the report itself identifies, there are various matters that would need to be considered in detail in order to encourage greyfield residential projects of this kind, including new planning policies and processes at a state level. Greyfield investment may also be assisted by financial incentives, and those that are mentioned in the report are certainly worthy of further detailed consideration at all levels of government.

As I mentioned earlier, my comments this evening are only a very brief contribution to a large national discussion on urban growth and development and how best all levels of government might respond so that our cities continue to be livable.