Victorian Liberals lose planning fight over social housing drive

The Victorian Liberals have lost their bid to fight an Andrews government decision that has stripped local councils of their power to make planning decisions on the construction of thousands of new social housing units.

The opposition’s motion to revoke the changes failed in the upper house on Wednesday morning by 25 votes to 12.

The state government late last year announced it would assess and approve all 12,000 homes it plans to build over the next four years under its $5.3 billion social housing blitz, drawing the ire of some of Melbourne’s most affluent councils.

Opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith said the government was running “tawdry old-fashioned class warfare”. Credit:Paul Jeffers

Opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith, who is also the member for Kew, said on Wednesday morning normal planning processes must apply to the construction of homes, regardless of whether they were part of a social housing blitz or private development.

“Local people need to have a say on what gets built over their back fence,” Mr Smith said.

“Melburnians are fair-minded and decent people – they know public housing is a social good. Equally, they have a right as a Melburnian living in a democracy, through our planning system, to say what they approve of and what they do not approve of through their local council in their local area.

“The Labor Party and [Housing Minister] Richard Wynne can carry on like pork chops, but all I’m saying is … allow normal planning processes to apply to public housing development, like you do with private housing development.”

Last year, Mr Wynne said his government’s decision would fast-track the application process by up to 15 months, and that housing providers would still be required to consult with councils and communities, and appeal rights to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal would remain.

Mr Wynne sharply criticised the opposition’s motion, describing it as “disgraceful”.

“Just 24 hours after the release of the mental health royal commission’s report, where they have absolutely indicated just the critical importance of safe, affordable and secure housing, the opposition seeks to block the ambitions of the government to build 2000 units for people suffering mental health issues,” Mr Wynne said.

Under the changes, Energy and Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio would take responsibility for planning decisions to prevent any conflict of interest Mr Wynne might have, given he is also the Planning Minister.

Borondoora and Stonnington councils, as well as the Municipal Association of Victoria, have expressed concerns residents would not be able to have a “meaningful opportunity” to influence decisions.

On Tuesday, Mr Smith had said the government was attempting to “ram” through planning applications shrouded in secrecy and ignore the concerns of local communities.

“Local councils and local residents are quite concerned that they’re not going to have a say on what public and social housing is going to be built in their area,” Mr Smith said.

“Labor can dog-whistle, running these tawdry old-fashioned class war arguments, but at the end of the day you can’t dismiss the fact you’re going to be ignoring the wishes of local residents.”

Last year, Premier Daniel Andrews said the fast-tracked process was required because many Victorians, estimated to be more than 100,000 by a tenants’ association, were waiting for a home. He said the accelerated process would also aid the construction sector, which had been badly hit by coronavirus lockdowns.

In November, Mr Wynne announced a $5.3 billion boost to social housing to tackle homelessness and create construction jobs in the biggest single outlay on social housing in the state’s history.

Public housing makes up 1.9 per cent of Victoria’s housing stock, the lowest of any Australian state, compared with an average of 4.6 per cent in OECD countries.

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