MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I had the opportunity last week to see the results of this government’s action on skills, training and jobs in major infrastructure projects across Victoria. Last Wednesday I joined the Minister for Training and Skills at Holmesglen TAFE’s Chadstone campus to announce $12 million in funding from the Stronger TAFE Fund. We all know what happened during the time of the last government: TAFEs were closing, courses were cut, staff were sacked and the training sector was in turmoil — a terrible record for those opposite. We are fixing this because it is what good governments do.
Mr DIMOPOULOS — The Minister for Training and Skills and I later joined the Minister for Industry and Employment at Carnegie station, where our level crossing works are well underway, to meet some of the apprentices filling the 743 new positions that have been created in just the first year of this government’s major projects skills guarantee. The total number of apprentices expected to work on just the Caulfield–Dandenong crossing removal project is 200. So far this skills guarantee applies to 15 major projects and is expected to rise to 38 projects.
On Thursday I paid a visit to the precast yard in Pakenham, which is an amazing operation. This is a massive factory specifically producing sections for the new railway line in my community that will mean the removal of many dangerous and time-wasting level crossings. We are removing nine crossings on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line. Instead of closing this train line, which is the busiest in Melbourne, for months and months on end to dig a big trench — as proposed by those opposite for this line — we have got an operation where much of the work is done off site and transported in. That is good for the community and good for jobs in Victoria.
I thank the ministers for taking the time to visit my community, and I look forward to seeing even more skilled employment resulting from this government’s initiatives in training and major projects.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I strongly support the motion outlined by the Minister for Resources that condemns the Prime Minister. This is primarily, as the minister said, about protecting an important industry for Victoria; 190 000 jobs, as the minister said, are in our food and fibre sector, and it generates around $12 billion worth of exports. This is about being sensible. Although I have some affection for the member for Prahran, the more I hear the Greens and the Liberal Party members talk in this chamber the more I realise that really this party, the Labor Party, is the only sensible party fit to govern in the state of Victoria. You have got one side, which as the member for Malvern said — and I rarely agree with the member for Malvern — does not worry about the lights being kept on at all, and you have got the other side, the Liberal Party, which does not want to invest in clean energy, almost to the point of ideological opposition. We are the sensible party; we are doing both. We are doing both proudly, and we are doing both in a way that sustains, as the member for Essendon said, baseload capacity for a growing city and a state, for emergency services, for quality of life for Victorians, while also investing in a future that is clean-energy focused.
This issue has a long history, but at the beginning of my contribution I want to just quickly focus on the Prime Minister. He has made a mess of this national debate. In fact, it has run away from him. Good Labor premiers around Australia have run rings around the Prime Minister in what is effectively a national energy market. He should be the head spokesperson for what is effectively a national energy market, but the South Australian Premier beat him to it. This government has beat him to a whole range of initiatives in energy over the last two years. If you listen to this Prime Minister, you would believe that Victoria has enormous reserves of untapped gas that are just waiting to be explored and we are somehow reprehensible for blocking the exploration of those huge reserves.
Then you have got the Deputy Prime Minister, as others have said, who sort of says, in a nod to his National Party heritage, ‘Maybe we can protect prime agricultural land. We can exempt that, but we can get on with mining other areas’. If you listen to both him and Malcolm Turnbull, you would think Gippsland and the Otways are not considered prime agricultural land.
We should not listen to the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister because they have failed in this national conversation; they have failed in their leadership in this area. We listen to the facts, and the facts, as they have been spelt out by the minister and others, are that even during the previous government’s term, the parliamentary committee charged with investigating these matters found that you could not — I cannot remember the exact wording, but it was something to this effect — confirm whether there were huge gas reserves in Victoria. That question remains unanswered, yet that is the basis upon which this government has been accused by the federal government and the opposition for being somehow irresponsible for locking up huge gas reserves.
The facts are these: there are no proven or probable onshore gas resources in Victoria. We need to complete, as the minister said, a series of in-depth geoscientific studies on the risk-benefit impacts of onshore conventional gas exploration. Obviously we have banned fracking, much to the relief of a whole community in regional Victoria and those in metropolitan Melbourne. Even in my community people have been against fracking for good reason. That is completely gone, and I am thankful it is.
With conventional gas we know we will need to do a lot more work during the time of the moratorium. This will be overseen, as the minister said, by a lead scientist, as well as an expert panel of industry, farmers, local government and communities. The reality is the offshore gas resources in Gippsland and the Otways currently meet Victoria’s gas demand, and they are bringing new gas into our market today. But the real problem is what the minister and others have outlined, that Victoria, while being a net producer of energy for Victorian needs, because of the national market, exports effectively too much.
There are a couple of things I want to say about the national debate and the Greens role in it, because I think they deserve a particular mention in that. I just quickly want to retrace our history in relation to this. The former governments, under Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine, established the Gas Market Taskforce, headed by Peter Reith, which delivered a report known as the Reith report. In response to that, the Labor opposition at that time promised to establish a parliamentary inquiry into onshore unconventional gas. On 29 September in 2015 the Leader of the Opposition announced the policy of a moratorium on both conventional and unconventional gas — fracking. Following our inquiry the government announced on 30 August 2016 that there would be a permanent ban on conventional gas, much to the relief of people, as I said.
On 7 March this year the coalition put forward an amendment to the bill in the upper house that removed the moratorium on conventional gas, established a gas reservation for Victoria and gave farmers veto rights over mining companies entering their properties. They made a complete and utter mess of what was sensible policy, informed by a parliamentary committee, informed by a statewide conversation. It made an absolute mess.
Effectively what you have got on their side now is — in fact probably going back to the Reith report, which really had no support — a throwing away of the last four years of good faith and conversations with farmers and regional and metro communities in Victoria. That is on that side. I think some of them are genuinely embarrassed about that turnaround, that about face, because they have probably had no control over it. There are some that did, in the leadership group, but that is embarrassing. So you have got that on one side.
Then what you have got on the Greens side is a total abdication of any sense of reason and responsibility in what is required to run a state. You are required to run essential services. You just cannot do what the member for Prahran is asking us to do, which is just to forget coal — literally; those were his words, ‘forget coal’. Absolutely there is a transition to a new energy future. You cannot just jump to it without any planning and without any investment by government.
I am extremely proud that we have done more as a party and as a government to support environmental causes than the Greens political party has ever done. I cannot say they have not argued for various things, but they have not delivered anywhere near what the Australian Labor Party has for the green future of our community and our nation. We have delivered far, far more, even just in the last two years in this term of government.
I have got a few highlights, but there are far more. We have established a $200 million Future Industries Fund, including support for emerging industries which include new energy technologies. Now there are six; one of the six is new energy technologies. So we are actually investing in new energy technologies, together with emerging companies and sectors. We have created a target of 25 per cent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. They are really bold statements and targets, and I think when the minister announced those targets she and the Premier said they were bold, but that is what you should be in government — you should be bold. We have put in place green bonds to finance clean energy and environmental projects. Again, I remember that when the Treasurer announced green bonds they were quite world leading.
We have provided real change to encourage and support wind farms and put to bed that ridiculous rule that the previous government had about a 2-kilometre zone, which effectively banned wind farms. We have banned fracking, as I said. We have announced new solar farms which will power the entire Melbourne tram network. Today I see that we have announced funding to promote organic waste not going to landfill. This government has done more for environmental causes than any other political party. So I put what the member for Prahran said in the context of a high school debating conversation rather than of real government. This is what real government looks like, including the ban on fracking. I strongly support the motion in the house.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to speak on Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2017. It is obviously an important bill, as other speakers have said, including the Attorney-General in his second-reading speech. The bill seeks to reduce errors in jury directions and improve communication to juries so that we have clearer communication and therefore better justice outcomes. Hopefully we will have a more efficient justice system through the reduction of retrials and appeals.
There are many elements to this bill, but I just want to speak on a handful of them. This bill primarily amends the Jury Directions Act 2015 but also some other acts. In relation to the points I want to make in terms of how it is cleaning up jury directions, I am drawing from the Attorney-General’s second-reading speech, particularly in relation to one of the messes it tries to clean up, which is directions on previous representations. As the Attorney-General said, a previous representation is a statement made outside of the court proceedings, such as a witness’s earlier statement to police, which is something that is commonplace. Jury directions on this evidence aim to instruct juries on how they may or may not use the evidence and, where relevant, its potential unreliability. Directions on the use of this evidence are working well and do not need specific legislative intervention. The Jury Directions Act 2015 already contains directions on unreliable evidence.
The Attorney-General went on to say in his speech that, however, the common law currently requires trial judges to give additional directions on previous representations that are confusing or unhelpful for jurors. For example, judges must sometimes direct that evidence from a witness who heard a statement is not independent proof of the facts stated. This direction could be misunderstood by jurors to mean that a complainant’s evidence needs to be independently confirmed, which is not correct.
The bill will clarify and simplify this area of the law by making it clear that this and other problematic common-law directions are not required. While trial judges may still give such directions if appropriate, these provisions will reassure trial judges that they do not need to ‘appeal proof’ their trials, so to speak, by giving these directions in each case. That is a pretty significant example of what this bill seeks to clean up at the moment.
There are others — for example, differences in a complainant’s account, and I think the member for Hawthorn mentioned that in his contribution. Again, drawing from the Attorney-General’s contribution to the house — and this is a very important one — defence counsel often use differences in accounts to discredit a complainant’s credibility or reliability. Jury directions are quite an old tradition. More contemporary research shows that people retain and recall memories differently — that seems like common sense now — and truthful accounts often contain differences. For example, an August 2016 report published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that in the sample study defence counsel raised inconsistencies within the complainant’s own evidence in more than 90 per cent of cases.
Trauma can also exacerbate the normal variability of memory. However, these issues are not commonly understood, and there is a misconception that if you are a genuine victim and you are telling the truth, you will remember all the details of an offence against you and describe that offence consistently each and every time to any person in any context. I think we all know from our personal experience that that is not true, regardless of how traumatic the event. The bill will allow trial judges to address this misconception in appropriate cases. The direction will include that people may not remember all the details of a sexual offence, for example, or describe an offence consistently each time and that it is common for there to be differences in accounts. However, the direction will also emphasise that it remains up to the jury to decide whether any differences are important and whether they believe some, all or none of the complainant’s evidence. It is up to them to believe or not to believe; that is the role of a jury.
There are quite a few of these things, including, for example, the archaic notion that in a majority decision a jury must deliberate for at least 6 hours, which has caused problems in situations where jurors are deadlocked or other situations where they know the result far earlier than 6 hours. This bill seeks to remove that requirement and replace it with something more applicable to a range of cases.
Another interesting one is jury empanelment and peremptory challenges. The bill seeks to amend the Juries Act 2000 to provide that an accused person must have an adequate opportunity to view the faces of prospective jurors. My understanding of how that happens is that the traditional practice has been for potential jurors to walk in front of the accused or counsel for the accused. There were a couple of cases in recent memory where that did not happen and the jurors went straight to the jury box. Depending on the shape and infrastructure of the courtroom, going straight to the jury box may or may not lead to the accused seeing the prospective jurors’ faces. This bill seeks to amend that by providing that the accused must have an opportunity to see the faces of prospective jurors.
There are really important things to consider, such as the evidence of the accused, interest in the outcome of the trial, as the Attorney-General said, and a whole range of other very important provisions. This bill is the third step in a process to clean up jury directions, a process that commenced in 2013. Under this government there was the Jury Directions Act 2015 and the bill we have before us today. This is a really important area of improvement in criminal justice. Juries need to be assisted, but assisted in a way that is to some extent neutral because they are the ultimate deciders of guilt or otherwise.
I am going to resist the temptation to have a go at the opposition, which is unusual because opposition members do not resist the temptation to have a go at the government. For example, the member for Gippsland South talked about a crime wave that actually commenced under his government. In response to the member for Hawthorn and his general position that anything that this government does is apparently not done as well as he would do it, I want to remind the member for Hawthorn and the opposition that when they had a go at interfering with the court system they really made a mess of it, including in regard to the base sentencing changes they sought to bring in. The Attorney-General has described a number of times in this chamber the mess they made.
The Attorney-General has asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to provide him with the most effective legislative mechanism to provide sentencing guidance to the courts in a way that is consistent in approach and promotes public confidence in the criminal justice system, unlike the approach of the previous government, which was torn to shreds by anyone with any knowledge of the criminal justice system, such as really junior people — I say tongue-in-cheek — like President Maxwell and the Victorian Court of Appeal, which said:
The baseline provisions are therefore incapable of being given any practical operation. As we have explained, that is the consequence of the legislature having expressed its intention not by reference to a starting point taken from sentencing law, but by reference to an end point taken from the field of statistics.
The Court of Appeal goes on in terms of the mess the previous government made of its intervention in the court system. I am pleased the opposition is not opposing this bill, but unlike the intervention of those opposite, our reforms to the Jury Directions Act 2015 and the reforms we propose under this bill are good-quality reforms that were prepared in consultation with an eminent advisory board. I commend the bill to the house.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — Last week I met some of the fantastic volunteers from the Monash branch of the State Emergency Service (SES). These people are genuine local heroes. It does not matter whether it is raining or hailing, if there are blustery winds or it is the aftermath of a natural disaster, the SES is on call. They do it as volunteers but in the most professional way. But it is not only weather events — the SES are at other emergencies too, helping our other emergency services, whether it is trying to find a lost person or helping to conduct searches for evidence in a crime. They are also there in times of major accidents on our roads. It is understandable that some of the things the SES volunteers see and do while on duty must be incredibly difficult. Therefore I cannot praise the SES enough.
The government recently announced a grant of over $19 000 to provide a proper kitchen for the volunteers at Monash. If you think about how many people come through there at all hours of the day and night, a modern kitchen is incredibly important. Also, the medium rescue truck that we provided some $100 000 towards is currently under construction.
There is always more to do, we know that, and I have had some very good discussions with the leadership of the Monash SES regarding some ways that the operations centre could be made even better. I will be raising these issues directly with the Minister for Emergency Services. I would like to thank the team at the Monash SES for allowing me to see the operation and witness the training they do every Monday night, and of course I would like to thank them and all our SES volunteers for the work they do 24/7, 365 days a year. As I said earlier, they are genuine local heroes.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to make a contribution on the Building Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Bill 2016. Obviously this is the second of a tranche of bills in relation to this very important area of public policy. It continues the reforms to Victoria’s building system that commenced under the previous piece of legislation, the Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Act 2016, which I also spoke on. Effectively that bill introduced a package of measures to improve dispute resolution, effectively taking a load off the consumer and achieving a system that far better serves the consumer. We, the government, foreshadowed that further reforms were required. These reforms include implementing all of the remaining recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report, and this bill does that.
It is also an appropriate week for this bill to be debated given the significant announcement this government made on Sunday in relation to helping people buy their first home. That is a pretty extraordinary commitment we have made, which we believe will not only see first home buyers being able to purchase their home more easily but also engineer greater residential building activity. This is a very opportune time to have this bill come before the chamber — just ahead of a new wave of building that will commence, I think, because of our announcements on Sunday for housing affordability for new home owners through stamp duty exemptions and a whole range of other fantastic measures.
This bill does several things. It enhances regulatory powers to enable the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) and other regulators to be more effective and provide stronger offence provisions, because they were found to some extent to be wanting in the Auditor-General’s report and in other forums. The bill proposes to permit the registration of corporations for the first time, which is a significant step. Corporate registration will also enable the VBA to take any necessary disciplinary action directly against a company in addition to an individual building practitioner, which was somewhat of a gap. It seeks to introduce new maximum penalties for corporations, consistent with the principles in the Sentencing Act 1991. These penalties for corporations are set at five times higher than those for natural persons.
The bill seeks to replace existing ‘holding out’ offences with new offences prohibiting a person or corporation not registered in a particular class of registration from representing or implying that they are in fact registered. It also does a range of other things, including providing more flexibility for consumers in relation to the availability of building surveyors. Industry and consumer groups, including ones in my electorate, have told us that the current system is a bit inflexible. As an example, under the current arrangement, as the minister said in his second-reading speech, building work may be delayed if a building surveyor is on leave at the time when a building practitioner notifies that the mandatory inspection stage has been reached, so you have to chase the building surveyor. Corporate registration of building surveyors will provide greater flexibility in the deployment of the corporate building surveyor’s personnel so they can make decisions to designate another individual.
There are registration and disciplinary history provisions in the bill to make it more transparent for consumers. Again this is something I have heard time and time again — the need to look at the disciplinary history of the personnel being contracted. Again, that would avoid a world of pain in relation to some of the people who have experienced issues in my electorate.
There are a fair few provisions in the bill, but I want to come to the new indictable offences that the member for Box Hill spent a fair bit of time on in his contribution. As we know from the minister and his comments in the public domain, the recent demolition of the Carlton Inn — or the Corkman hotel — highlighted that the current offences in the Building Act, which provide for fines alone, are not a sufficient deterrent for people in the business of building who knowingly do the wrong thing. For this reason the act will create those indictable offences that the minister referred to in his second-reading speech and the member for Box Hill also focused on. Just in relation to that I want to clarify the government’s position.
The government’s position is that the proposed indictable offences are intended to apply only to the most serious contraventions of the Building Act. This may include circumstances where there are risks to health and safety resulting from those contraventions. The indictable offence provisions will not apply to minor breaches, which can be dealt with summarily. The offence will only apply in the most serious cases of deliberate non-compliance.
In relation to the strict liability offences the member for Box Hill canvassed, the government’s intention is that the offences to be inserted by clause 20 in section 16(3), section 16(4) and section 16(4A) are all strict liability offences and that the defence of honest and reasonable mistake is open in relation to them. It is expected that if a regulator was considering charging a person, for example, with a section 16 offence, the regulator would consider any evidence as to whether a person was operating under an honest and reasonable mistake. That would address the concerns of the Master Builders Association of Victoria, which has been in conversations with the government.
In my view the member for Box Hill painted a picture of the building industry in terms of it being a collaborative effort of different professions, and I accept that. In my personal view I accept that, but the problem is you cannot just assume that that will deliver the best outcome for the consumer, and clearly it has not done so in the past. This bill seeks to close some of those gaps and require a high level of cooperation between those people in the building industry to protect consumers, which is something we have heard is required.
The clarification I gave in relation to the indictable offences and strict liability offences is the clarification provided to the Master Builders Association by the government and the minister, and I think that more than addresses the concerns the member for Box Hill has raised by also addressing the concerns that consumers have raised with the government, with the Victorian Auditor-General and with me in my office specifically. I have had a couple of really high-profile cases that have ended up in the newspapers. I will not go into personal details here, and I have previously mentioned them in relation to the first bill.
The other provision that I think is very important that I want to also raise is clarification of the role of local government. I spent 11 years in local government and one of the most common things brought to me by residents and constituents was the fact that councils seemed to have a hands-off approach when it came to private building surveyors, because somehow it was not their problem anymore. Obviously that was a context created by the former Kennett Liberal government, so the Victorian Auditor-General has pointed to some uncertainty concerning the role of councils in administering and enforcing parts of the act where private building surveyors were involved, and I have experienced that, as I said, with my constituents.
This bill therefore amends section 212 of the act to provide that the appointment of a private building surveyor does not limit the administration and enforcement responsibilities of a local council. That is a great relief to my constituents. This amendment is not intended to alter the fact that the manner in which a council exercises, as the minister said in his second-reading speech, its responsibility for administration and enforcement may be affected by the appointment of a private building surveyor to the building work within the municipality, but all it does is clarify that the council absolutely has a role, and that is very appropriate.
This is a government that delivers on its election commitments. It is delivering on its election commitment to clean up the consumer protection laws and frameworks in relation to residential building for consumers and for my constituents. This is an important step in implementing the recommendations of the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, and I commend the bill to the house.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I wish to raise a matter for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. The action that I seek is for the minister to come again to the intersection of Grange and Oakleigh roads in Carnegie to inspect the installation of the new traffic lights funded by this government and see firsthand how these traffic lights are helping to reduce accidents and allow pedestrians to cross Grange Road safely.
Just by way of background, the Grange-Oakleigh roads intersection has been the site of many accidents over many years. It is a notorious blackspot. In the last five years there have been eight accidents, resulting in three serious injuries. These are just the accidents that have been reported; we know there are many more — and near misses are an almost daily occurrence. I often see the telltale remnants of a car crash there — glass on the road, oil spills and parts of bumper bars left on the nature strip — or a smashed-up car waiting to be towed away. I am told that in the past people’s front fences have been heavily damaged too.
This is a very busy area, with 16 000 vehicles using Grange Road and around 4500 using Oakleigh Road every day. The intersection is next to Ormond Community Kindergarten and only a short distance from Kilvington Grammar School, Katandra School, Glen Huntly Primary School and the Ormond train station. So you can imagine the amount of foot traffic, particularly young kids, struggling to get across a busy Grange Road every day. There have been many campaigns in the past to rid our community of this blackspot, and it is something that my predecessor, Ann Barker, worked very hard to achieve. But, pardon the pun, there was always a roadblock somewhere. That has now changed.
Firstly, I would like to thank the minister for his commitment and dedication to road safety in Victoria. In 2015 I asked the minister to visit the intersection of Grange and Oakleigh roads, which he subsequently did. He recognised the need to fix this intersection, with the likely installation of traffic lights as suggested by VicRoads being the most appropriate solution. But in order to do this, it needed funding. After all the years of waiting and all the campaigning, in just the second Andrews government budget, funding was allocated specifically to fix this intersection by installing traffic lights. As of today works are underway and are expected to be completed in the coming weeks. So I have to pay tribute to the minister for working with me and the community. He did not just listen to an argument, he looked at it, and when it came to the crunch he delivered. You cannot ask for more than that.
I would also like to thank the Treasurer. As he would know, this is something I have been in his ear about for some time. Finally, I would like to thank the community. They have lived with this intersection for too long. They have joined in the campaigns. They have lobbied. They have collected signatures on petitions. It is always heartening to see real community activism which is rewarded in the end.
One statistic that is hard to measure is how many lives you have changed or indeed saved with these individual blackspot fixes. But despite that, you know that they do change lives. They do actually save lives. There are the accidents that never occur, the injuries never sustained. So while they will never know it — and that is a good thing — drivers and pedestrians get to go home to their families. So while some might say it is only a set of traffic lights, it is more than that, much more.
On that note, I look forward to welcoming the minister back to Carnegie to see the change that we helped to create. I thank my colleagues for their indulgence.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — I rise to wish a very happy 60th birthday to Neos Kosmos, a Greek-Australian newspaper that was formed way back in 1957. This paper has grown with the Greek community in Australia. For many of those whose first language is Greek, Neos Kosmos has been their main connection with news in Australia. It is still relevant today. In my community, for example, in Eaton Mall on any given day there will be people slowly enjoying their coffee while reading the paper front to back. Do not worry — there is an English edition every weekend for those who do not read Greek. Neos Kosmos provides genuine, quality journalism, and I know that it will continue well into the future. I want to congratulate all the staff and the owner, Chris Gogos.
MR DIMOPOULOS — A couple of weeks ago I was very pleased to open the official historical exhibition of OC Connections, formerly the Oakleigh Centre. This amazing local organisation has been providing support and accommodation to people from my community who have an intellectual disability since 1950. It is an organisation formed from the community — from parents and other local people with a passion for helping others. I am pleased to say OC Connections is as strong as it ever was. What a history it has. It is very inspiring to see how the Oakleigh Centre, now OC Connections, has transformed the lives of so many people over nearly 70 years. The exhibition is at the Oakleigh and District Historical Society at the Monash Federation Centre until 20 April.
MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill. I think it is important to set a bit of context for Melbourne’s growth. Melbourne, as we have heard, is scheduled to grow from 4.6 million people today to 8 million people by 2051. Eight million people is about equivalent to New York City’s population today, perhaps just under, and where Nanjing in China is. They are big cities. That is the projection of growth for Melbourne by 2051. Victoria will grow to just over 10 million in the same time frame, so we really do not have much of a choice. We are a great place to live and people come here. This is an obvious point but it is important to note that this growth is not distributed evenly across Victoria. I will talk a bit later about the opposition’s approach in thinking they can tell people where to live.
Greater Melbourne attracts the bulk of Victoria’s overseas migrants. Due to its large share of the state’s population, 76 per cent in 2015, and its younger demographic, it also accounts for the majority of natural population increase through childbirth. These trends are likely to continue, and greater Melbourne is projected to have almost 85 per cent of the state’s growth by the time I mentioned, 2051. Within greater Melbourne the areas with the greatest capacity for dwelling growth are the outer growth areas and the inner city. This is reflected in projected population growth.
While the middle suburbs are expected to regenerate and increase steadily in population, the designated growth areas, effectively 49 per cent, and the five inner local government areas, 16 per cent, are expected to account for the majority — two-thirds — of population growth to 2031. Of course the regions play a role, and they are clustered around the three largest population centres of Greater Geelong, Greater Bendigo and Ballarat. This is not a situation where you can just put up a ‘We are full’ sign, nor can you really direct people to live where you want them to. You cannot do that in a civil democracy. Of course you can encourage; you can put programs and infrastructure in place.
We are growing by more than 100 000 people a year because people want to live here, and we have seen that in international rankings time and time again. The Andrews government is planning for that growth with a massive infrastructure program that we have heard a lot about in this chamber over the last two years. Just as a quick refresh, we are investing $10.9 billion in the Melbourne Metro rail project that my good friend the member for Bentleigh just talked about in his contribution. We are spending $5.5 billion on the western distributor project over the Yarra, providing a vital second river crossing and an alternative to the congested West Gate Bridge. We are spending $2.4 billion to remove 20 dangerous level crossings by 2018. Four of those are in my community and nine are on the line that I call my line. This is something that the previous government did not do.
We want to distribute growth evenly and get the planning right so we can see better growth for Victoria in four main areas. That is the government’s vision for the inner city and urban renewal areas, through activity centres in our suburbs and in greenfield outer suburban areas and regional Victoria. That is as much planning as is appropriate before you enter Stalinist territory by telling people where to live.
Talking specifically about this bill as others have done and why it is important in managing for growth in that context I have described, this bill will enable the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) to lead planning in designated areas, moving away from the model where it began with the Growth Areas Authority and then the Melbourne Planning Authority, to have a broader sweep of authority over larger areas of Victoria or wherever the minister directs, and provide advice more generally, including urban renewal sites such as Arden near Melbourne’s CBD, as others have mentioned, in growth areas such as Wyndham and East Werribee and regional cities and towns such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Wodonga and the Latrobe Valley.
The Victorian Planning Authority will be empowered to work with local government, utility providers, developers and a whole range of others across government to ensure that the infrastructure and services that are required for our communities to live in those population centres actually come to fruition. This planning will be based on the extensive strategic planning already done by other levels of government, including local government. It will have an important focus on planning new housing, which is also important, but not just any type of housing: housing that actually adds to your quality of life; housing close to service centres, shops, schools, medical practitioners and a whole range of other important life services required for any community.
As others have said, the bill details the function and powers of the VPA, the composition of the board and its operating arrangements and provisions for the appointment of a chief executive officer and staff. It talks about conflicts of interest, which is obviously important within this context of public policy, other technical provisions and necessary updates related to other acts to ensure this act is appropriately constituted. This is a very important piece of legislation because it essentially fulfils a vision of the frameworks and instrumentalities that we need to manage growth in a way that is effective and contributes to our amenity rather than mitigating it in what we call our most livable city in the most livable state.
I want to pick up on some of the small mindedness of the opposition. I find this extraordinary. They say they support the bill — well, they do not oppose the bill, I suppose. It is tricky language. You have first got the member for Kew, who is all puff and no pastry. He is the Dickie Knee of Victorian politics who just gets up and makes a little contribution. What has the member for Kew achieved since he was announced by the Leader of the Opposition as having some role regarding population policy? What he has achieved — I have read some of the documents — is that he has talked about regionalising our growth. He said, ‘Let’s get the population growth into the regions’. It is a good sentiment, but it does not constitute anything new. Gough Whitlam provided grants to attract people to regional Australia 43 years ago. This is what the great member for Kew has to offer in the population debate: ‘Don’t come to Melbourne. We don’t want you in Melbourne’.
Then you have got the member for Benambra. There is a milk bar politician, if you have ever seen one. I ask the Minister for Planning, who is in the chamber: do you remember the milk bar where you used to go when you were a kid and you would ask for 20 cents worth of lollies in a bag? That is the level of politics — —
Ms Kealy — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, perhaps rather than giving his critique of the members of the opposition and their contributions, the member would like to go back to debating the bill at hand.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pearson) — Order! It has been a wideranging debate covering a number of issues, and I note the member does not have long to conclude his contribution. I would encourage the member to continue.
Mr DIMOPOULOS — To explain for the record, the reference to the milk bar was that the focus of the milk bar owner is on the little things, like a bag of lollies, rather than the big, strategic things. The member for Benambra said, ‘You’re introducing the VPA bill because you do not trust local government to deal with population planning and decisions’. That is not it at all. How on earth could you replace a strategic approach, like the VPA and everything else we have debated in this chamber — relying on 79 councils to make individual decisions, albeit with an oversight planning role through the state government, and catering for Melbourne’s New York City approaching day — with a VPA authoritative organisation and some strategic planning?
Then you have got the member for Mount Waverley, who drew some ridiculous longbow between Waverley Park — something that his leader, the then minister for planning, monumentally stuffed up, not this side of politics — and this bill. I still do not understand that context.
This is a very important bill. I commend the Minister for Planning. I commend the existing staff of the organisation and the outgoing CEO. This is the kind of stuff that people will look back on in 20 years and say, ‘That was foresight. That was architectonic stuff that actually led to a better quality of life and better and more sustainable population growth for Victoria and Melbourne’. I support the bill.