Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:37): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Building and Planning Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, which is largely about the issues with respect to registration and automatic recognition of building practitioners, namely architects and various others –

A member: Plumbers.

Danny O’BRIEN: plumbers, and green wedges. I must say, particularly after listening to the last two opposition speakers, the member for Mornington and the member for Caulfield, I feel a bit like a city MP getting up to speak on a timber or a water irrigation bill, because it is not really my area of expertise or interest.

Ryan Smith: What!

Danny O’BRIEN: Yes, it is a surprise, member for Warrandyte, as I normally know a fair bit about everything of course, but no, not on this one. But genuinely there are some important issues at play in this. As I alluded to, I do not pretend to understand some of the planning and political issues that go with green wedges, although I did take issue a little bit with the member for Mordialloc’s description of pristine green wedges in his patch. I mean, I spent a bit of time in the electorate of Mordialloc, during the election campaign actually, and ‘pristine’ is not a word I would use. As someone who has got Wilsons Promontory National Park in their electorate, I can talk about pristine, but I think I know what he means.

When it comes to food production but also the so-called lungs of Melbourne, that is where our green wedges are so critically important for the state. It is a difficult problem, so I am not surprised that there is debate, that there are political concerns and that there is argy-bargy on both the planning and the issues with respect to maintaining our green wedges. We see it at the other end, I guess, in regional Victoria, including in Gippsland of late, the areas that are not green wedges that have recently been built on, and I know the member for Bass is going to be following on from me, and she will have seen it in particularly her former electorate but also in the current boundaries of Bass, where that massive growth through the south-east has pushed out many of the food producers in that area.

I do not celebrate it necessarily, but Gippsland South has been a beneficiary of that, with people like the Schreurs family moving large parts of their celery production to Middle Tarwin in my electorate. When I say I do not celebrate it, I certainly welcome the Schreurs and any other farms and businesses that wish to come to Gippsland South. But my concern is that sometimes we are seeing good farmland, particularly good horticultural land, going under more houses in the south-east, in the west, in the north and in other parts of the city as well. It is an issue that comes to me regularly. Again, in a planning context, for every one person that comes to me and says, ‘Why can’t I get a permit to build a house on this 30-acre property that I’ve got?’ there is someone else who comes to me and says, ‘Why are we letting people build more houses on good farmland?’ That occurs in rural areas of the state, like mine, but also a particular concern is in some of that very fertile land that the member for Mordialloc was referring to: in a wedge from Mordialloc through Koo Wee Rup and then again down into South Gippsland. It is important that we do protect those green wedges – that we make sure that both the lungs of Melbourne and the food bowls of Melbourne are looked after – because they are not making any more of it, as the saying goes, and we need to make sure that we protect that, although of course I do think of that quote sometimes and see what the Chinese are doing in the South China Sea. They are literally making more land. But we do not have the luxury of that here in Victoria, and although we are the food bowl of the nation and certainly the nation’s biggest food and fibre producer, and certainly one of its most important exporters as well, we do not have arable land ad infinitum.

I actually had a conversation this morning with some people looking at biomass and discussing issues with respect to forestry and plantation forestry. It is an issue that is not as simple as some would make out. I note the Greens were meant to be speaking on this bill right now, but they are a no-show, Your Honour. They forever say, in terms of timber production, ‘We should just go to plantations.’ It is not as simple as that because we already use much of our land for food production, and of course you still need half-decent land with half-decent rainfall to put in plantations. So you have got to be able to find the land, it has got to be affordable and it has got to be the right type of land, and that is why this is a difficult proposition: to manage the conflicting land uses that we seek for both our green wedges here in Melbourne and planning more broadly.

I note the legislation makes some amendments to the Building Act 1993 in relation to automatic mutual recognition of building practitioners, building employees and plumbers who are registered or licensed in other jurisdictions. This is an ongoing process of mutual recognition across the state and territory boundaries and something that I have spoken about in this place before. I have welcomed the fact that we do that as a nation. Yes, we have our autonomy as individual states, but when it comes to these sorts of cross-border recognition issues, I am very strongly in favour of making sure that as best as possible and as long as we can do things safely we recognise each other’s capacities at state level – that we do make sure that it is easier for people to come across borders and continue to work in their particular professions.

I mentioned plumbers, and it has been a pleasure this week to have the member for Morwell deliver his inaugural speech. He probably should be speaking on this particular bill, with some more authority than I have, but he has had a big week. He has had his inaugural speech. He has had a members statement and a question in question time today. The member for Morwell would know more about this legislation probably than I would, but he has had a big week and we will let him off.

There are also elements of the legislation with respect to architects, and this is where the member for Croydon has raised his concern and moved the reasoned amendment that he has already circulated, which basically say the government should go back to the drawing board and address the concerns that have been raised with us by the Australian Institute of Architects. That relates to potential second fees having to be paid, and they are seeking clarity on the range of criminal sanctions that would be considered in assessing registration applications. I support that.

This bill is in fact similar to a bill that was before us in the last Parliament but lapsed. In the time since then, while this one has been amended and some of the more contentious parts taken out of it, there are still those concerns that have been raised. Likewise, the colleagues who spoke before me have raised concerns about the green wedge aspects of it, in particular in relation to landfill and dumping of soil and the like. Again, I support the reasoned amendment put forward by the member for Croydon for the government to go back and consult with those green wedge groups that were mentioned and the Australian Institute of Architects to address some of the concerns that they have with respect to this legislation.

I will leave it there. I think there are some good things in this legislation and some appropriate attempts to ensure that our green wedges are looked after and that we do improve recognition across state boundaries, but I do support the reasoned amendment as moved by the member for Croydon.

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