Wills Electorate: Infrastructure


Peter Khalil: I’m regularly contacted by residents in my electorate of Wills regarding the pace of new developments in our neighbourhoods, and I hear their concerns about the pressure on open space and social infrastructure and amenities as this cracking pace of development intensifies across the electorate. I’ve seen the phenomenon across the suburbs of Brunswick, Coburg, Pascoe Vale, Glenroy, Hadfield and Fawkner, and on numerous occasions I’ve met with residents, from the southern part of the electorate, in Brunswick, right up to the north in, Glenroy, and discussed this issue of overdevelopment.

The conversations generally turn on three key points. Firstly, developments tend to occur, despite the best efforts of local councils, without clear strategic oversight or being part of any broader plan for the entirety of the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The developments are driven solely by the profit, or commercial, motive and occur in an ad hoc manner. As soon as someone sells to a developer—even if a resident passes away and the estate sells to a developer—it is a very random process. Not much consideration is given to whether the development fits into that local area, whether there are sufficient amenities and social infrastructure such as schools, childcare centres, medical clinics or open park space available to meet the increase in population that the development will naturally bring. Obviously, when a developer knocks down a three-bedroom home and puts up five two-bedroom units, you’re going to have an increase in the population in that space. Secondly, these new units tend to have no car parking space. You get an additional 10 people living in that plot and, suddenly, there are all these cars being parked out on the street adding to the traffic congestion issues that local residents face. Thirdly, developments tend to be put up quickly. The developers wants to make their money, so the more quickly they can put up the building and sell it or rent it out the better. The standards—and aesthetics to a certain extent—tend to be left as an afterthought.

There’s been some thought that it may be necessary to have an independent planning committee, a statutory body at the state level outside of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, made up of independently appointed town planners, architects and engineers to assess the appropriateness of developments across the benchmarks—social infrastructure, traffic congestion, aesthetics and environmental impact—that we consider important. Of course, I suspect the developers would resist such a move but there is precedent for such statutory bodies, particularly in Europe in cities like Rome and Berlin, where heritage is so important.

The congestion issues are not unique to my electorate. They are becoming a problem all over our capital cities, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney. Yes, we know it’s because the vast majority of migrant intake is to Melbourne and Sydney. In addition to the migration to Melbourne and Sydney, a baby is born every one minute and 44 seconds in Australia. Over the next 30 years, Melbourne is projected to be Australia’s biggest city with a population of around eight million, and Sydney will also hit around eight million. Australia needs to really think about its long-term planning for sustainable growth.

Rather than call for a flat cut to migration, as the government has—and, on the way through, bash new migrants and minorities like the member for Warringah and the Minister for Home Affairs are wont to do—we should be having a constructive discussion about Australia’s future with creative ideas about how we can maintain the economic benefits of migration while addressing the strain on our infrastructure and services. This is something the federal government is not doing, despite the fact that we’ve seen substantial growth in Melbourne. The coalition federal government continues to short-change Victorians. The hypocrisy of calling for a cut to migration because of infrastructure pressure is breathtaking, considering it was the Turnbull and Abbott governments that have cut infrastructure with respect to Victoria. To be able to plan ahead, Victoria needs to have its fair share to build infrastructure and major transport projects across the state, yet we only get the equivalent of only $90 per person, whereas New South Wales receives the equivalent of $278 per person.

We hear the Minister for Home Affairs lament the strain on our capital cities’ infrastructure and say that the cities are overcrowded. This is despite the fact that his own department is contributing to that strain and making it harder for local workers to find jobs. Eighty-five per cent of 457 visas it has approved have been for jobs in capital cities that could otherwise have been filled by local workers.

It’s well accepted that migration is an integral part of our economic growth. But rather than fearmongering about migrants and minorities, the government should be planning ahead and encouraging sustainable growth in regional and rural areas. Instead of the member for Warringah and the Treasurer taking pot shots at each other with a simplistic argument over cutting migration, what about some creative policies? What about investing in infrastructure? What about some incentives for migrants to settle in other capital cities or support for advanced manufacturing, research and development, IT and biotech jobs? What about restricting some of the temporary migrant visa restrictions? These are the things that we need for this country.