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Planning and Environment Amendment (Wake Up to Climate Change) Bill 2022

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
17 August 2022

It is a pleasure to rise to speak to the Planning and Environment Amendment (Wake Up to Climate Change) Bill 2022 that Mr Hayes has put before this chamber, one that is long overdue and I hope sparks a conversation about how we need to urgently act on reforms in this area, as has been presented in this bill. We have an opportunity to support reforms that will have a material impact on improving biodiversity, broader environmental and broader planning outcomes across neighbourhoods in this state should we embrace them. I note that it is a response to two major inquiries this Parliament has conducted within this term: the inquiry into ecosystem decline that Mr Hayes referenced in his second-reading speech, as well as another inquiry he referenced, the recent inquiry into the planning framework in Victoria. It is a really commonsense bill that addresses a major gap in our planning legislation. The current Planning and Environment Act 1987, although it is ‘Planning and Environment’ in name, is almost all about planning and does very little to protect or conserve the environment and completely ignores the threat of climate change. We know from the outcomes that we see every day that development trumps environmental concerns every single time, but planning and climate and environment are actually intrinsically linked, because the way we develop and use the land we have will have a long-term impact on our climate and our ability to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. This bill would ensure that the purpose of the principal act is to establish a framework for planning the use, development and protection of land, the protection of the environment and native species and the response to climate change.

We know through these really significant inquiries that the Parliament has conducted recently that planning in Victoria is totally failing to both protect the environment and properly prepare for climate change. Instead it favours developers and their profits. We hear it so often, and my office has certainly heard over the years from residents who have been devastated by vegetation and tree canopy loss in their community, something that Mr Davis referenced as well. Developers just build to the edges of lots and raze the existing vegetation because there are very few protections for existing trees and other vegetation. Tree canopy loss on private property is one of the biggest issues facing urban development. There are so few protections of the private tree canopy on people’s private lots. There is work happening in the public realm, but one of the reasons we have had to accelerate the work of tree planting in the public realm is to compensate for the really rapid decline in the private tree canopy that we once had. There has been a total lack of statewide guidance or rules on planning for climate change, and this is demonstrated in example upon example, particularly from our local councils. While the government will cite work that is underway, and we commend the work that has begun, we know this work has to accelerate as quickly as possible. It is important that we have these ongoing reviews and reforms, but what has come through very consistently both from our local councils, particularly the local residents who are fighting planning matters on all fronts every single day out in our communities, and from experts in planning law and statutory planning is that the lack of consistent and enforceable guidelines and the fact that it has taken years to even get some of that review work underway have meant that we have lost so much of our local environment, our local biodiversity and the opportunity to actually improve urban development outcomes—because of the lack of consistent guidelines for a number of years.

In terms of the inquiries that have recently been conducted, and most recently the planning inquiry, many submissions, as Mr Hayes referenced, specifically mention the lack of any consideration of climate change in planning rules and guidelines. This came through very strongly particularly from our local councils, who in their written submissions said that while local councils could have strong aspirations for climate change action and mitigation, they were let down when it came to implementing those aspirations within the planning system under a planning framework that they have to adopt because it is state planning policy, which often overrides and supersedes local planning policy and local strategic visions in other areas—for example, in terms of climate and environmental protection. So the state rules trump the local rules, and there is this real disconnect, they were telling us, right across the board—and this was planning experts as well—in the fact that we can have aspirations at a local council policy level but then the local council are hamstrung by state policy. This is why we need reform at the state level, which is what this bill is aiming to achieve.

The inquiry also suggested through its evidence that we need to more explicitly link planning decision-making and outcomes with climate change adaptation and mitigation. As I and others have expressed in this chamber previously, there was a real missed opportunity in the planning inquiry in that we did not have public hearings for that inquiry, despite hundreds of submissions of really high quality, in-depth submissions and a real thirst from the community, who have been crying out for some attention on what has been happening with the planning system in Victoria. While the government might claim that they are on to it and they are conducting reviews—and we welcome that work—we should not be afraid of hearing from the community who are at the interface of the planning system being implemented into reality. They experience the development next door that is able to get away with so much because there are not strong enough rules. They get to experience what happens when local planning decisions are made on a lot-by-lot basis without thinking about the broadscale implications of what all that development will do to the built form of that neighbourhood and what it will do to the local environment for transport, ensuring sustainable and active transport can prosper as well. Our planning system lets our communities down day in and day out, and it is really important that we get on with that urgent reform.

The inquiry had so much potential to make very strong recommendations about where we could start with that work, what gaps we need to fill urgently. While the submission evidence is captured in the planning report, it was a real missed opportunity not to be able to make very strong recommendations to government. I suspect this would have been one of the strong recommendations that we made to government should we have been allowed to make recommendations in that report, but the Greens will not stop pushing for a full parliamentary inquiry with full public hearings so we can hear from the community, hear from planning experts, hear from local councils who have been doing years of work, who have the solutions, if only the state government was willing to listen and partner with communities in improving our planning and environment framework.

Coming back to the bill in terms of what this bill is aiming to do and what it is aiming to mitigate in terms of the long-term impact of bad and unsustainable development, what it is attempting to do is to ensure that we do not see the worst effects of the urban heat island effect, which is caused when you do not have enough green open space and tree canopy cover. It traps heat in developed places with lots and lots of concrete and can make areas up to 3 degrees hotter or even more. We are on the precipice of experiencing some of the really dangerous impacts of climate change. We are seeing that in cities across the world, and our cities are just not ready to adapt to some of those changes, so it is really important that we pay attention to what this bill is aiming to do, which is to get our local environments ready for, unfortunately, impacts of climate change that we could have prevented if we had acted earlier. Hopefully we will be able to take the action to prevent further impacts from climate change if we can limit global warming.

We also know that when you do not plan for your cities properly and you do not take into consideration environmental and climate issues, what you end up with is unlivable cities where people are just not able to inhabit sustainably places that they need to call their home, where the air becomes unbreathable, the places become unmovable and places become unsafe and uninhabitable. We need to think about how we can turn this around, and we have opportunities in this place with bills like this before us, with parliamentary inquiries that we have moved and begun in this place to put solutions on the table and to work across the board to put these solutions into practice.

I commend Mr Hayes for his work in this area, for the work that we have done in the planning inquiry. That work is unfinished, but we will continue to pursue that because it is really, really important. We hear day in and day out from communities that this reform is urgent. It is very, very overdue, and it would have an immediate material impact if we took changes like this and implemented them straightaway. I urge the government to listen to what communities are saying, and while they were not willing to hear from communities directly in the inquiry, there are other platforms in which you can listen to communities in terms of what they are experiencing and the frustrations they are feeling when they see their urban neighbourhoods being degraded by poor decision-making and lack of consistent strategic planning, oversight and enforcement of rules and having the rules in place in the first place. I commend this bill, and I look forward to working with others to advance a number of the objectives of this legislation.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
17 August 2022


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