Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (15:28): I move:

That this house requires the Environment and Planning Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by June 2022, on the adequacy of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Victorian planning framework in relation to planning and heritage protection, and in particular the committee is to examine:

(1) the high cost of housing, including but not limited to:

(a) provision of social housing;

(b) access for first home buyers;

(c) the cost of rental accommodation;

(d) population policy, state and local;

(e) factors encouraging housing as an investment vehicle;

(f) mandatory affordable housing in new housing developments;

(2) environmental sustainability and vegetation protection;

(3) delivering certainty and fairness in planning decisions for communities, including but not limited to:

(a) mandatory height limits and minimum apartment sizes;

(b) protecting green wedges and the urban growth boundary;

(c) community concerns about VCAT appeal processes;

(d) protecting third-party appeal rights;

(e) the role of ministerial call-ins;

(4) protecting heritage in Victoria, including but not limited to:

(a) the adequacy of current criteria and processes for heritage protection;

(b) possible federal involvement in heritage protection;

(c) separating heritage protection from the planning administration;

(d) establishing a heritage tribunal to hear heritage appeals;

(e) the appointment of independent local and state heritage advisers;

(f) the role of councils in heritage protection;

(g) penalties for illegal demolitions and tree removals;

(5) ensuring residential zones are delivering the type of housing that communities want; and

(6) any other matter the committee considers relevant.

When developers brazenly demolished the Corkman hotel, Melburnians were appalled. The minister responsible for heritage protection, the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, thundered that he would make them rebuild it ‘brick by brick’. Now, that was an impulsive but regrettably empty threat. He did not, nor does he, have the legal power to do this. The Corkman hotel vandals got away with it. They escaped with a fine, which does not even cover the extra money they can now get from selling the property as vacant land as a development site. Now, if this were an isolated example of Melbourne’s heritage being demolished while this Parliament turns a blind eye, that would be one thing, but it is not.

Here is a list of heritage homes demolished in my electorate alone all due to a lack of heritage protection. Some were demolished while their heritage values were still being assessed. They are: 34 Armadale Street, Armadale; 19 Moir Street, Hawthorn; Forres at 9–11 Edward Street, Kew; 981 Burke Road, Camberwell; 993 Burke Road, Camberwell; 33–35 Huntingtower Road, Armadale; 34 Were Street, Brighton; Idylwilde at 16 St Georges Road, Toorak; 18 St Georges Road, Toorak; 27 Mariemont Avenue, Beaumaris; 19 Nautilus Street, Beaumaris; Breedon House at 34 Were Street, Brighton; 32 Middle Crescent, Brighton; 25–27 Victoria Avenue, Canterbury; 360 Auburn Road, Hawthorn; 368 Auburn Road, Hawthorn; 55 Seymour Road, Elsternwick; 2 Burgess Street, Beaumaris; 46 Rowland Street, Kew, the home to young Gough Whitlam; and 1045 Burke Road, Camberwell.

That is just 20 heritage homes in the last few years in my electorate alone, and that is also Mr Davis’s electorate, Ms Crozier’s electorate, Mr Erdogan’s electorate and Ms Taylor’s electorate too.

Here I am talking about heritage, but this motion seeking a referral to the Planning and Environment Committee, of which I am deputy chair, is about a broader and at present all-encompassing issue of planning, which I will talk to later in this speech. I want to thank my crossbench colleague Dr Ratnam, also a valued member of the committee, for her initial collaboration in framing the terms of reference and her continuing support in getting this motion before this house and, with the government’s and hopefully the opposition’s support, getting the issues before the committee.

During my time as an MP I have received many expressions of concern from constituents about the loss of these homes and what these continuing demolitions say about the poor state of heritage protection in Victoria. I have come to the view that a parliamentary inquiry is needed. Some suggestions I believe require investigations by a committee, especially in regard to heritage protection, and they are the adequacy of existing arrangements for heritage protection in Victoria; whether there should be a federal minister for heritage and a federal department of heritage; whether heritage protection in Victoria should be moved away from the Minister for Planning and have its own minister and its own department; whether there should be a separate Victorian heritage tribunal rather than having heritage decisions made at VCAT; whether developers should be required to pay for independent heritage advice on any building they propose to demolish but not be permitted to appoint the heritage expert; whether councils should have their own heritage department outside the council’s planning division, which would promote local heritage and maintain lists of independent heritage advisers; whether penalties for illegal demolitions, such as the Corkman hotel disaster, and illegal tree removals are sufficient; whether buildings which have been altered to some degree still retain ongoing heritage significance and value; whether the two levels of heritage protection available—significant and contributory—are sufficient.

In this respect, as well as others, we should look at practices in other jurisdictions, which we have done. This is by no means an exhaustive list of heritage issues which we can consider. Other things that have been brought up are whether communities should make some contribution to helping heritage owners maintain heritage properties in some ways too, but Victorians in general are dismayed and even aghast at the lack of heritage protection in this state. It is a matter I have discussed directly with the minister, and to the minister’s credit he has expressed his concern about this as well. I am glad to have the government indicating it is going to support this today. I am really very pleased to hear that, and I thank the minister.

Here are some of our residents’ thoughts. First, a demolition permit should not be issued without a planning permit. That means you cannot knock down what is there until the planning process has decided what is going to replace it. The current practice puts demolition powers in the hands of private building surveyors, and as I have said to this house previously, the system of private building surveyors is a scam, and it has had a detrimental effect on the quality of our buildings since the Kennett government introduced it and subsequent governments have continued to support it. Heritage protection should not be privatised out to unqualified building inspectors. However, if we required a planning permit or something similar before a demolition could proceed, this would bring councils into the picture, as they should be.

Respected Melbourne planning expert Professor Michael Buxton from RMIT has told me our heritage system is ineffective compared to that of many other countries. He said there is no proper consideration of precincts and that the system relies on the use of the heritage overlay, which he considers a flawed process. Overlays omit too many important areas and buildings. The process is costly and cumbersome and the overlay provisions are weak. Constituents have suggested we look at the heritage provisions in the UK or Canada or New Zealand. Some have noted that in jurisdictions like New South Wales heritage is part of the environment department.

And heritage is not just about old buildings. There is cultural heritage. Some buildings are not architecturally special but have significance due to their place in history. Then there is Indigenous heritage, and I am concerned about the heavy-handed force used to ensure the destruction of significant Indigenous trees as a consequence of the Western Highway extension. Earlier this year the federal government for the second time rejected an application to protect these trees, and I hear there has been some success in a court today but I do not have all the details here.

And there is context too in relation to landscape. In the case of some of the homes in Toorak which are at risk of demolition, it is not so much the home as the loss of the magnificent grounds and gardens which needs to be prevented. One of my constituents, former TV presenter Ilona Komesaroff, has collected the signatures of over 600 Toorak residents on a petition demanding an end to the destruction of local heritage by developers. The United Kingdom’s Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment sets out four groups of heritage values.


Evidential value: the potential of a place to yield evidence about past human activity.


Historical value: the ways in which past people, events and aspects of life can be connected through a place to the present …


Aesthetic value: the ways in which people draw sensory and intellectual stimulation from a place.

And four:

Communal value: the meanings of a place to the people who relate to it, or for whom it figures in their collective experience or memory.

My constituents see little evidence of these sorts of values being seriously applied on the ground. Ms Dasha Kopecek from Box Hill advised me of a case in Box Hill where she said that the heritage officer employed by the developer presented a biased, ill-informed heritage perspective, unsurprisingly intended to support the developer. The council heritage officer did not attend a planning forum designed to give residents a chance to discuss the heritage significance of the site. The council officer who did attend and chaired the meeting was unable to summarise the heritage officer’s long and technical report. Few people—residents or council staff—would have actually read his report. VCAT appears ill-equipped to deal with complex heritage matters and has a poor history of dealing with residents’ concerns. Bernadette Pierce from the Save Glen Eira group said their members are concerned about the effect on heritage buildings of large developments carried out adjacent to them. Overshadowing, access to sunlight, wind issues, changes in the water table and so on can negatively affect heritage buildings causing distress and expense for their owners.

Last year the National Trust released a document concerning federal heritage priorities. They pointed out that Australia’s heritage creates a unique identity, a sense of place and a strong reminder of our proud history. Our heritage places, from buildings to landscapes, from song lines to character areas, from trees to shipwrecks, all represent our story—the story of our people and our shared connections. They said Indigenous cultural heritage continues to be at risk from incremental destruction and the cumulative impact of large-scale landscape change. Government heritage departments at all levels are underfunded and under-resourced. The ongoing loss of trade skills in heritage leaves heritage places vulnerable to poorly executed repairs and conservation work.

They advocated a program of accredited job skill training to boost the traditional heritage trade skills. They advocated more effort to protect, conserve and celebrate Australia’s heritage. Also, last year the National Trust’s Kristin Stegley had an opinion piece published in the Age titled, appropriately, ‘Governments only pay lip service to heritage’. She said there is a failure to appreciate how heritage contributes to social cohesion and to vibrant, prosperous and healthy communities. She is right. Governments have not done enough to promote social cohesion in recent times, and we could use all the social cohesion we can get right now. She also referred to an editorial in the Age which called for the buck-passing between state governments and councils over heritage protection to stop. The Age is right of course. Both government and councils have a responsibility to protect heritage, and as you can see from the list of demolitions I read out earlier, they are failing to discharge it, and property speculators benefit from this failure in responsibility.

Residents in Boroondara are strongly supporting my campaign for a parliamentary inquiry. Sandra Alexander, Rose Blanden and Christina Branagan from the Boroondara Group for Advocacy and Protection described the changes to the statewide Victorian planning provisions introduced by amendment VC148 in July 2018, just two years ago, as an alarming development which threatens heritage and residents’ rights through exempting notice requirements and the like. As examples, they pointed out that a local house had recently been approved for contributory heritage protection after a huge community campaign. Then the owners made a planning application to council which would seriously degrade the heritage elements, and due to amendment VC148 local people were not informed, nor does council have to consider their objections as part of the decision process.

A second example is a house and garage with an individually significant grading. The owners can subdivide that land, build a fence or demolish the garage or sell the land as a development site, and local residents would be given no notice and have no rights of objection.

They have also raised the issue of VCAT with me. They say that VCAT has become increasingly focused on whether a heritage property has had alterations. This is increasingly being used as a reason to deny heritage protection, yet there is nothing in the guidelines or regulations to support this approach. The fact is that all heritage places have been altered in some way over the years. It is a part of their heritage, and it is what happens all around the world. The claim of alterations was the claim made by developers who developed two century-old buildings in Burke Road, Camberwell, on either side of Victoria Road intersection, but minor alterations should not destroy the case for heritage protection.

The Boroondara residents also raised the issue of facadism. Planning guidelines are supposed to discourage the demolition of buildings except for their facade, but increasingly places of heritage value are being all but demolished in this way.

In Bayside residents have been concerned about the demolition of unique mid-century heritage. The award-winning Breedon House in Brighton, designed by Geoffrey Woodfall and built in 1966, was demolished in May this year after being refused an interim protection order because it was considered not to be under immediate threat. In the same week a mid-century home in Nautilus Street, Beaumaris, designed by the architect Charles Bricknell, was demolished despite objections from the National Trust and the community group Beaumaris Modern. Beaumaris Modern president Fiona Austin described that week as ‘devastating for our architectural heritage’. She has advised me that Heritage Victoria denied an application by them for an interim protection order after a phone call was made to the owner of Breedon House. Apparently Heritage Victoria was reassured by phone that the owner had no immediate plans to demolish the house. So they did not put a protection order on it, but the owners demolished it the very next day. What a farce. And what does it say about the effectiveness of Heritage Victoria?

National Trust chief Simon Ambrose said:

Mid century homes are an important part of our history and utilised groundbreaking construction methods, innovative approaches to open-plan living and connections to the landscape.

The battle goes on. In August Hawthorn residents launched a campaign to save a 1916 Queen Anne federation villa in Berkeley Street which is at risk of being sold, having been passed over in a heritage study, and a modernist home in Tannock Street, Balwyn, designed by renowned Melbourne architect Robin Boyd in 1949, was also at risk of being listed for sale in August—and what is more, it is being advertised as a redevelopment opportunity. Professor Philip Goad, a professor of architecture at the University of Melbourne and a board member at the Robin Boyd Foundation, says that more than 60 years later the building is still virtually intact. In mid-October we learned of plans to tear down four period homes in Hampton and replace them with a three-storey apartment block with 36 apartments. Apparently we do not have enough apartments. Changes to the residential zones which allow multi-unit developments in older areas where previously only two new dwellings on a block were allowed have accelerated the market-driven destruction of our heritage.

And it is not just private developers who are the culprits when it comes to heritage destruction. The state government’s Level Crossing Removal Project has been removing a lot more than level crossings. The Upfield line project destroyed trees at Moreland station that were more than 100 years old and destroyed the historic Munro Street signal box despite the objections of hundreds of local residents and the Coburg Historical Society. The fact is that heritage matters. The fact is we are failing in our duty to protect it for the enjoyment of this generation and the ones who come after, and we need an inquiry to produce ways we can lift our game and do better.

So far I have been speaking about heritage protection, but the motion goes to a number of other important issues concerning the Planning and Environment Act as well. The first of these is the high cost of housing, and I know I am not alone in being very concerned about the high cost of housing. The extent of homelessness and rough sleeping in Melbourne is unacceptable. It is shameful. It is worthy of note that the state government was quite able to find accommodation for our homeless people when it became a public health issue due to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us learn from this and take the opportunity to get fair dinkum about putting an end to homelessness. On our road to recovery from the pandemic I believe that it would serve Victorians better in the light of near future if public money was being spent on social housing, which might give homeless people a break and also employ local builders, rather than huge, environmentally damaging infrastructure projects.

The inquiry would also look at environmental sustainability, vegetation protection, mandatory height limits, minimum apartment sizes, protecting the green wedges, the urban growth boundary, concerns about VCAT’s role, third-party appeal rights and ministerial call-ins. These issues are all fundamentally important to me and to our party, Sustainable Australia. I have spoken about them many times in the past couple of years. Last year I put forward a private members bill concerning mandatory height limits and restricting VCAT appeals. The bill was narrowly defeated in this place, and I believe it is a great pity for our state because it would have reshaped planning in Victoria and given citizens a much greater say in important planning issues.

This year has shown more than any other since the Second World War how much we depend on social cohesion and people being prepared to act for the good of the community rather than simply pursue their own personal interests. We politicians are much more likely to get that cooperation and support if people know they are being listened to and have a stake in the results. In the area of planning, the community is only involved in a token manner. Property developers have the ear of governments and are far too close to them and, as we have seen many examples of lately, improperly close to them.

Governments have been imposing ever-denser populations in Melbourne to satisfy the development industry, often against the express wishes of the community. Now we are faced with a time of change—an unmitigated disaster but an opportunity too. We need to learn the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic and a lesson which we learned in the past but have forgotten.

Right around the globe population density has been a contributor to disease and death. We are witnessing a revolution in working habits, and we must rethink our planning and transport systems. Will more public transport be necessary now, or will more and more freeways continue to be seen as the answer to ever-increasing density? Will ever-increasing density everywhere be seen to be desirable again? To property developers of course yes, but will the general public want to go along with them again? CBD office space is now empty, and it is a long way back from here.

It is time for a rethink of Plan Melbourne, which was written by the true believers that bigger and denser is always best for everyone, especially property speculators. And it is time for a rethink of the planning and environment legislation, which could possibly turn its focus away from an overwhelming concern with higher density and focus its attention on community health, community wellbeing and of course our precious environment and what we value about the past. All of these are primary concerns to local residents but are rarely taken into account in planning decisions under this much-corrupted act. I commend this motion to the house.