The first 100 days of a new government are an opportunity to set key policy directions. This period gives ministers the chance to further develop their relationships with stakeholders and to outline plans for their stewardship over their portfolio.
Planning is a key responsibility for state governments. In Victoria, the Minister for Planning, with the Premier, Treasurer, Attorney-General and Ministers for Health, Education and Public Transport, is one of a handful of senior ministers who can either make or break the reputation of the government.
Days after Richard Wynne was sworn in as the new Victorian Planning Minister, he suffered a serious health issue which required surgery and months away from work. Now he has returned, he has begun to make decisions, including launching five new activity centres in middle and outer Melbourne, signing off on the demolition of the Dallas Brooks Hall to make way for an apartment and office development and approving a 211 metre residential tower at 380 Lonsdale Street.
In his first major profile piece since becoming minister, Richard Wynne explained to The Age that planning "is ultimately about people". While this is true in so far as planning touches on cities and communities and where people chose to live, work and recreate; planning is also about the economy. Planning is an economic portfolio that can act as a barometer of confidence in the economy and in Melbourne as an investment destination.
Property and construction is a significant industry for Victoria. It contributes $16 billion to our economy each year and our state leads the country in building approvals, with an almost 15 per cent increase in approvals during the past twelve months.
One of the challenges for governments across the country is Australia's high unemployment rate. In Victoria this has been compounded by continuing population growth and a shrinking base of 'old' industries, such as manufacturing. High value services, such as tourism and education, have recently surpassed iron ore as Australia's largest export.
Victoria's new government has said it has a plan to create 100,000 jobs. Many of these will have to come from the property and construction sector. The government's Project 10,000 policy specifically refers to the jobs likely to be created by the removal of 50 level crossings and other rail and transport projects. However, if government is to support the private sector in delivering more jobs, welcoming greater foreign investment and continuing to grow our residential and industrial development pipeline will also be necessary.
Another consideration for the government is housing affordability. The most recent Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey has placed Melbourne within the top ten list of unaffordable city markets, along with Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles.
Whenever governments are involved in regulating the real estate market, there will be a political imperative to address housing affordability. Supply is an important factor in this equation. Getting the balance right will be crucial – particularly in light of planning in growth areas and investment in Victoria's regional cities, which are expected to capture 6 per cent of Australia's total population growth in the next 20 years.
While Victoria's current planning system is far from perfect, we do have a system that is mostly working. Through long term planning, such as Melbourne 2030 and Plan Melbourne, a great deal of work has gone into consulting and agreeing on what we want our city and state to look like in the years ahead. The new Minister has said that he hopes to improve upon these documents, rather than scrapping them.
One demonstrable way for us to improve the planning system would be to expand the model of regional planning authorities, often spoken about by former planning minister Matthew Guy. During last November's election campaign Labor announced they would create a Geelong Authority along similar lines. This sort of system would make it possible for the State Government to continue its role of setting the planning vision and framework and to create a role for local planning authorities to apply this framework consistently at a regional level.
While the new government has passed the 100 day mark, there are 1,360 days to go. Maintaining momentum in planning, particularly around the pipeline of projects and investment, will be critical to achieving the jobs goal that has been set and realising the economic potential of the planning portfolio.
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