Tuesday 17 September 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
Housing Land Supply (Huntingfield)
Order 2019 - Disallowance


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, there is no need for me to speak at length either.  There have been some really good contributions to this debate thus far. 

As we know, there are numerous benefits when proposed projects go through the Tasmanian Planning Commission process, not least allowing for the public participation in the planning process.  So how can the Government ensure there is community backing for a project without meaningful consultation?

This is always a danger - lack of consultation.  You would have heard the member for Windermere over the years we have been here and the member for McIntyre.  How often have we banged on about it?  We have warned the Government, previous governments, Labor-Greens, Labor, Liberal.  Consultation is a no-brainer.  If you try to circumvent it or if you do not consider it very strongly, you run into danger, into problems, when you come to the Legislative Council.  It is something we decree.  We want to see that; we want to hear that.

When I was on the Subordinate Legislation Committee, it was interesting.  I had three or four years on the Subordinate Legislation Committee and there were boxes that had to be ticked.

Ms Rattray - The devil is in the detail.  That is the regulation.

Mr FINCH - The devil is in the detail.  Of the boxes that had to be ticked, one was community consultation.  It was always ticked, but when you drilled down into it, when you started to get members who were affected by decisions that were going to be made, you found that there was not proper consultation, nearly every time.  That is a key word here that I would like to signal back to the Government, not only for this but for future projects:  consultation.  If you overlook that, you are going to run into trouble.

It is pretty well known that I was against the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill for a number of reasons, not least of which was the rushed job on proper process or public consultation.  It was taken away from the proper process.  It was brought to the Legislative Council to ensure that the numbers were here to circumvent the planning process in the Resource Planning and Development Commission and for it to go through.  It was very cynical.

Mr President, you may recall I voted against the Parliament Square project - not because I was against it.  I supported it and thought it was a wonderful idea, but the proper process was circumvented.  I stuck by my guns even though I was threatened that when the new offices were allocated, the member for Hobart and I would be given tents in the public square.  You probably do not recall that.  We ended up with offices in this building, which is much better.

As the member for Nelson pointed out most convincingly, there is a more than urgent need for much more public, social and affordable housing in Tasmania.  The lack in Tasmania is a scandal.  There is an urgency, but as the member for Nelson has pointed out, the fast-track process in the case of Huntingfield was unnecessary.  It has alienated a community which would have supported what could have been a source of pride, of an example of how to solve Tasmania's housing crisis.

The member for Nelson is passionate about public, social and affordable housing - we heard that - and so am I.  The present situation is a negative in our largely affluent society.

What I would like to do and what has given me some guidance as to where my decision might go, is to read into Hansard a letter from the mayor of Kingborough, excerpts of which have been mentioned.

I will read the letter in its entirety.  We all received it, except for the two government members, which is unfortunate, because it should be shared.

Mr Dean - I didn't get it either.

Mr FINCH - You didn't get it either?

Mr Dean - It is a fault in the system and the techs are working on it now to see what has gone wrong.

Mr FINCH - It is most unfortunate that occurred because, as the Legislative Council, we should all have been afforded that information.  People are watching this sitting being live-streamed, and they would only have heard us mention the letter and they may not get access or get an understanding of what was contained in that letter, so, with your indulgence, I will read that letter into Hansard -

Dear MLCs

I write to provide you with Kingborough Council's analysis of the Housing Land Supply (Huntingfield) Order and the process which led to its tabling in the Legislative Council and now a disallowance motion.

This is not a referendum on housing at Huntingfield.  Kingborough Council supports housing on the site.  The site is rightly listed within the Southern Tasmanian Regional Land Use Strategy for urban growth and has been since 2008.  Whatever decision the Legislative Council makes, housing will be developed on this site.  The uncertainty is only with the density of the housing and the infrastructure commitments that should go with it. 

The property in question has been owned by the State Government, for the purpose of developing housing, for 45 years.  The proposition that the government must now use emergency powers to rezone it is preposterous.  The documents you have been provided with as part of the Order are deficient when it comes to explaining why the Minister cannot use the standard planning scheme amendment process. 

We know this and previous State Governments - Labor, Labor-Green and Liberal - have all harboured ambitions to develop this land but did not progress various plans through the standard planning scheme amendment process.  The reason there are no houses on this site is exclusively due to the State Government having failed to progress it, not because of Council, community or the Tasmanian Planning Commission. 

The Minister for Housing, who is also Minister for Planning, contends his own planning process is too hard for him, as Housing Minister, to navigate and needs to fast-track and bypass his own process.  That sentence sounds ridiculous because it is.

If disallowance is carried by the Legislative Council, it will be up to the Department to submit a planning scheme amendment through the standard process to progress housing development on the site.  Council would not expect that process to take longer than nine months. 

There are three distinct issues I would like you to consider as you deliberate your position on the disallowance of the Order.

Mrs Hiscutt - Before you move on, I would just like to say it is addressed 'Dear MLCs' except for government members.  We did not receive it.

Mr FINCH - I pointed that out at the beginning, Leader.

Going back to the letter, the three distinct issues that Dean Winter wanted to highlight are -

Process.  The refusal by the Minister and his Department to properly engage with the local community in any meaningful way has been a leading factor in the angst that this proposal has created.  Every Member of Parliament should be aware of the basic principles of engagement.  Sadly, the Minister has executed a disappointing showcase on how not to approach engagement, particularly around a development of this size and scale.  This is a large subdivision by any standard.

The reason we have a planning scheme amendment process that is rigorous is to make sure we get it right.  We should expect developments like this to be in place for decades.  The Housing Minister and his Department being under pressure does not excuse less robust planning.

Irrespective of what happens with this Order, MLCs should insist that this process is not used for future developments of this size and scale. 

Had this proposal been dealt with through the standard process, it would not have generated such a high level of concern.  It would not have taken significantly longer, and the result, through collaboration with Council and the community, would have been a better development.

Even at this point of the proposal, with significant changes having been made to the first draft, the community has not been afforded the respect of any form of engagement to explain the changes.  Wherever I go across my municipality, I am asked about Huntingfield.  The order is not available for public comment, not on public exhibition and even if someone was to track down a copy of the Order, they would need to carefully read at least 30 pages of the report to fully understand what is proposed.

When the Parliament passed the Housing Land Supply Act 2018, it did so to allow for a faster response to the housing shortage.  However, I suspect the Parliament did not foresee that the Minister would use the powers provided to him to deliver amendments to the planning scheme that would not normally be accepted by local Councils or, I suspect, the Tasmanian Planning Commission.

Further, the new requirement for Kingborough Council to approve the masterplan means that this 'fast track' process that commenced on 3 June 2019 will extend for longer.  Given the nine-month process I outlined earlier it is not certain that this 'fast track' process is going to be quicker.  Even if it is, is it worth the substandard community engagement and substandard planning outcomes? 

The passage of the Order through the Legislative Council would leave our Council in the undesirable position of being asked to approve a masterplan that overlays a zone density it fundamentally disagrees with.  Our elected members and planners have already expressed serious concerns with this through submissions and two motions through Council that focus on process, density and infrastructure.  Both motions were carried unanimously. 

Density.  We know that before the fast-track process was available to the Government, the proposed number of lots was around 230.  This number was used throughout the first term of the Hodgman Government by the former Minister the Hon. Jackie Petrusma MP and her Department.  It is only since the introduction of the fast-track powers that the proposed site density has more than doubled. 

It is proposed that around 50 per cent of the residential land on the site be zoned inner residential, despite the land being 3km from the Kingston CBD.  I would not normally expect our Council Planning Authority to allow this zoning so far away from an activity centre.  For context, this is a higher density that suburbs like Sandy Bay and West Hobart surrounding the Hobart CBD, as well as the remaining parts of residential Huntingfield, which is zoned general residential. 

Infrastructure.  Kingborough has been Tasmania's fastest growing municipality for around 20 years.  Its growth and urban sprawl have far exceeded investment in local infrastructure.  This is particularly evident over the past five years as traffic congestion has undoubtedly worsened.  Residents in the areas surrounding Huntingfield are already dealing with the reality of traffic congestion and a highway network without adequate redundancy.  Last week, yet again, we saw headlines of traffic snarl with congestion stretching right around this proposed development.  Yet the only solution implemented thus far is tow trucks to clear the roads faster.  This is an area already dealing with infrastructure deficit.

While the Department of State Growth's commitment to reviewing the Channel Highway corridor between Kingston and Margate is welcome, the outcome of the work should be known before the proposed rezoning takes place. 

An additional issue, picked up since the original order was advertised, is that that new state school catchment areas show Huntingfield falling into the Margate Primary School catchment.  This is a school which currently has no safe pedestrian route from Huntingfield and no State Government commitment towards the project (a shared pathway between Margate and Huntingfield) that would provide a link.

Summary.  I am sorry that you have been placed in the unenviable position acting as a hybrid local council and planning commission.  Many MLCs will be unfamiliar with the area and understandingly conflicted by the advice you have received from all sides of this argument.  If you value good process, local engagement, proper planning and infrastructure provision, I ask you to deeply consider your position on the disallowance motion. 

I repeat:  this is a letter to most MLCs from the Mayor of the Kingborough Council, Dean Winter.  I think it is in support of the Kingborough Council.  I am going to support the disallowance motion.  Cutting corners and leaving the public out of the planning process does not help get rid of the tents and homeless people sleeping in vehicles. 

I support the disallowance motion, Mr President.