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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1931

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (18:20): I rise to speak on appropriation bills Nos. 3 and 4. These are important bills relating to the management of our nation's economy. It is through appropriations bills that we the legislators and decision makers elected by the Australian people establish how we want our nation's finances to be spent. This is the vehicle to tell our nation what our priorities are and what kind of legacy we want to leave for future generations. From the views I hear from my constituents and from what I see as their representative, this legacy is becoming an increasingly poor one. Program after program of waste is implemented by this government as the policies that we really need are left on the sidelines in the too-hard-basket, and we all suffer.

This is a modern-day version of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Earlier today in question time the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport referred to our nation's 'infrastructure deficit'. As the member for Bennelong I am keenly aware of this issue and I have spoken many times in this place about the need for urgent attention to fix this disease. With five of the 10 most congested roads in New South Wales, made worse by the community's total dependence on buses as their only source of public transport, this infrastructure deficit is having a major effect on our local community. Average speeds of under 10 kilometres per hour during peak hours mean that our nation's productivity is squashed and that the important time for mums and dads to have with their loved ones is thoroughly impacted.

The other major infrastructure concern that has threatened my local community is the inappropriate development of high-density housing in suburban areas ill-equipped to deal with this increase in the local population. This concentration of people in areas without access to public transport or local shopping facilities only further exacerbates the problem of congestion on roads as families are forced into the car just to buy their groceries or other daily items, making it even harder to find an end to this worsening nightmare—after all, it is pretty difficult to put out the fire when more fuel is being continually added. These high-density planning decisions were forced upon the local community by previous state governments, using part 3A powers under the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. This gave the planning department and the state government two centralised authorities with little understanding of the local needs and capability of the local area the power to overrule decisions made by local government to prevent inappropriate development.

During the 2010 election campaign, I campaigned loudly and strongly on this issue, visiting example after example of totally unsuitable high-density residential blocks being built in tiny streets with no parking and no access to transport or shops. I joined with local councillors and state opposition MPs and marched down these streets and called on the New South Wales Labor government to let the local government do their job and to put the same faith in the local representatives that the people do to make the best decisions in the interests of the local community. It was clear for all to see that intervention from state and federal authorities over decisions of the local council representing the wishes of the local community was unacceptable, improper and simply bad policy. It was undemocratic.

In March last year, this campaign climaxed as Barry O'Farrell was swept into power. His first act was to get rid of part 3A and to put planning decisions back into local hands. I look back with great pride at this campaign because it was a perfect example of people power, of the will of the people being represented and of the trust in the local representatives.

Recently this issue manifested itself in the proposed redevelopment of the Ryde Civic Centre, a decrepit seven-story building perched on a key intersection directly opposite the massive and magnificent Top Ryde City Shopping Centre. The current building was once an icon in the local area but, like what happens to the best of us, age has taken its toll. An amount of $700,000 has recently been approved to ensure a reliable power supply and council has estimated that a further $12.5 million will be needed just to maintain the current structure over the next five years.

And so, since 1995, discussions have taken place about ideas of redeveloping the site, of bringing the seat of local government into the 21st century, of a structure that will have room for all council employees to be housed in one building and of a new icon for our local region. Of course, such development ideas do not proceed without tension. Despite elected representatives from both Labor and Liberal joining together to promote the idea, a local action group has been formed to oppose the redevelopment of this site. This is democracy in action, as concerned members of our community have attended council meetings and participated in real grassroots politics. For someone who is too often stuck in somewhat surreal disconnected halls of Canberra it is very fulfilling to hear the stories of real democracy in action. Aside from any individuals latched onto disgruntled voters as a way to pursue their own personal political ambitions, I offer my support to all those residents with genuine local concerns who wish their voices to be heard and who wish to participate in this democratic process.

This is not a partisan issue, as elected representatives from both parties have supported this development. It is a political issue, wrapped up in a bigger question about the future needs of our local Ryde community and how we want to get there. I remain strong in my view, just like I was during the 2010 campaign, that these local development issues are the domain of the local council. It would be inappropriate for me to become vocal on one side or another, just as it was for the previous state government to become involved by overruling local planning decisions. Yet these planning decisions affect my local constituents and me personally as a Ryde council ratepayer. So I have taken an active interest in being across the issues, speaking with local government representatives from both sides of the argument, including holding a 2½ hour meeting in my office with the council general manager and development director. During this meeting I pressed the need and sought assurances for a rigorous and transparent community consultation process, ensuring that all proper planning procedures are followed and that it remains in line with local environment protocols, unanimously supported by all local counsellors.

Whilst some redevelopment design possibilities have been tossed around, I understand that it will be up to the private developer to propose and the local council to approve the final design, shape and appearance of the structure. I have faith that the local representatives will be making these decisions in the best interests of the community and will fully respect the local amenity.

The philosophical approach to this concept that I do support, whether it be in Ryde, Epping, Macquarie Park or Eastwood, is that the focus of residential development should be around major shopping centres and bus terminals. By giving people the ability to travel to their work and perform their shopping duties without the need to take a car is a huge priority that deserves our support. So much of this local region has been destroyed through the demolition of street after street of suburban residential homes to build five-storey apartments, with no concept of supporting infrastructure. I personally experienced this several years ago, when my family home was gobbled up by developers, who gave us two choices: either sell to us or lose the value of your property because you will be next to apartments on all sides.

As an elected representative it is my duty and my goal to help my constituents avoid the need to personally endure such a distressing experience. The way to do this is through proper planning, ensuring there is logic, as well as supporting infrastructure, surrounding the decision to build higher density living. Planning is not what happens when a problem is overtaking a situation of our own making, when growth outpaces infrastructure. Good planning and timely commitment to appropriate infrastructure would in fact prevent such a situation occurring.

Across my local community and across the nation we see examples where, time and again, this has not happened. As a result our cities suffer from either a serious infrastructure deficit, whose solution requires a multiple spend to rectify through retroactive installation, or an excessively high cost of living, which combine to destroy our productivity, competitiveness and quality of life. It is a confounding situation that we find ourselves in a country where our single biggest asset is land, yet through these oversights we have produced, to our detriment, the most expensive cities in the world to buy real estate. It may be uncomfortable to come to terms—

Debate interrupted.