The Victorian Government's increasingly draconian controls over the Grampians National Park continue to be revealed. In recent weeks, Member for Western Victoria, Bev McArthur, has questioned the Andrews Government’s ‘set-aside’ regulations for the park which effectively reverse public access rights provisioned in the National Parks Act 1975.
Snap Action Against Minister's North East Link Decision
Join Friends of Banyule for a snap action out the front of Minister Wynne's office today, Friday 5 Dec, 10am, Tenancy 2, Ground Floor, 188-196 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, VIC.
Planning Minister goes against own Planning Panel’s Advice to accept North East Link project as is
Thursday 5th December 2019
Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth and community group Friends of Banyule have expressed their extreme disappointment at today’s announcement that the Planning Minister Richard Wynne has approved the North East Link.
The project has been approved without extending the tunnel northwards, contrary to the Minister’s own Environmental Effects Statement Planning Panel’s advice and pleas of impacted families and community groups.
In the decision, Minister Wynne stated that “the project will produce significant environmental impacts, borne largely by the community of Melbourne’s northeast during a protracted construction period”.
Minister Wynne fails to report the permanent nature of this environmental and social damage and the long-term health impacts for those living along the 29km construction build, which includes 11 kindergartens, 12 schools and 5 aged care facilities.
“The State Labor Government values cars and toll road revenue over and above our children’s health and future. They are also prepared to destroy over 26,000 trees and two locals creeks, pollute the Yarra river and destroy the liveability of our beautiful green suburbs,” Friends of Banyule President Michelle stated.
“It's staggering that over 20 cherished homes in Yallambie will make way of the Tunnel Boring Machine Launch Site. This is additional to 37 homes already being acquired by the project. How many more homes in Watsonia and Greensborough will have to go via “voluntary acquisition” because they will simply be unliveable?”
“We don’t accept this greedy, undemocratic, sham consultation. The Minister has failed to listen to reasonable advice from his own expert Planning Panel and over 870 submissions by the public.”
The Minister admits that the project will produce ‘significant’ environmental impacts and lead to the destruction of valuable public open space. The project will impact as much as 175 hectares of open space during the 7 years construction period, with 18.2 hectares ‘required permanently’.
Friends of the Earth’s Sustainable Cities campaigner Claudia Gallois says “This will further entrench Melbourne’s reliance on cars for travel and have negative impacts on local communities and local business, increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to the loss of valuable open space.”
“We welcome the state government’s investment in public transport, including the Metro Tunnel and Suburban Rail Link. But choosing a mega road over smart transport options like the Metro 2 tunnel is backwards thinking. Developing the North East Link will lock off development options for both Metro 2 and the long-promised Doncaster Rail Link, both of which are better ways of dealing with congestion on our roads, without destroying open space and damaging air quality”.
“In a rapidly growing city, it is simply not acceptable to be destroying public open space and sporting facilities.” (It's unfortunate that this media release doesn't challenge the idiocy of the Victorian Government encouraging further high immigration to this already overcrowded city (see LiveInMelbourne.vic.gov.au) - Ed.)
“There is no meaningful assessment of the rise of greenhouse gases associated with this project. In a time of climate change, this is unacceptable. It is also at odds with the government’s commitments under the Climate Change Act,” concluded Gallois.
Claudia Gallois, Friends of the Earth, 0448 752 656 [email protected]
Michelle Giovas, Friends of Banyule, 0409 179 121, [email protected]
Victoria’s Planning Minister, Richard Wynne recently dropped a bombshell on thousands of apartment owners whose buildings are covered in flammable cladding.New loan laws likely to be passed by Parliament have been billed as a kindly gesture to help owners of apartments covered in the flammable cladding to ffund the rectification costs. This news might seem a worthy initiative, except that the most iniquitous elements in this scandalous swindle are unspecified. Principally, Wynne’s decree provides that owners who bear no blame for this combustible catastrophe are to be burdened with a debt that could run into billions of dollars. [Article first published at https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/innovation/materials/apartment-owners-dodgy-cladding/ on 13 September 2018.]
Why are building owners forced to foot the bill?
The answer to this question is very simple. In line with past policy, the government has decided to protect rogue builders and transfer responsibility to blameless owners.
As always, there has been superlative spin, secrecy and incredible storytelling. Unearthing the truth required a long, complicated and tortuous path to find what has been hidden – that consumers remain wholly unprotected.
The Burning Question
After years of dodging the question of who would be forced to pay to rectify the potentially lethal cladding bill, Wynne has waved through an answer of sorts, in the form of his new building amendment. But it is double-speak.
Wynne’s resolution does not include the full facts, nor the horrendous implications. In addition, this new legislation has been made more difficult to comprehend because of the missing link between this reform and his earlier consumer protection laws passed in 2016.
You need to look at what underpins it, and that can take many laborious hours. Only once you decode the cryptic core of the amalgam do you discover the deceitful laws that have been secretively enacted.
Fundamentally, the Andrews’ government has shifted legal liability from delinquent builders to owners. For Wynne’s winners an unsurprising get-out-of-gaol windfall. For owners, another titanic bombshell.
Part 1 2015: First building bite
Here’s what you need to know.
While the public might have thought that the government was taking its time to deliberate the enormity of the question about who pays for the replacement of dangerous flammable cladding, its plan was discreetly put into action in early 2015. Nonsensically, it was peddled as a consumer protection strategy.
Minister Wynne, and all his helpful advisors, needed time. The scope of works for this serpentine strategy had to be schematised.
Paradoxically, this decision to sentence consumers was selected as the strategic keystone four years ago. The spin doctors suppressed the news.
This was mixed in with Wynne’s inaccurate statements. For example, after the tragic Grenfell towering inferno in June 2017 where he told The Age a fire of the magnitude of the Grenfell Tower blaze would “not happen here in Victoria… or Australia, in fact. Because we have the strongest building codes of any first world country.”
Now to the first step in the narrative: Wynne’s Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill tabled in 2015. Just like the current bill, the draft of this legislation was denied to the public until it slipped into parliament to be passed effortlessly in early 2016.
Consumers and activists made repeated unsuccessful attempts to access and read the draft bill. By the time the news became public, it was too late.
Naturally this triggered suspicion. Why all the secrecy and what was to hide?
Well, Wynne had agreed to insert an explosive Clause 37B into the Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015. It was designed to deprive the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) of its powers to order rectification works once owners had taken possession of a building. Additionally, Wynne removed other clauses to diminish the VBA’s broad powers to virtually nil.
Then, in October 2017, LU Simon Builders, who constructed the Lacrosse Tower (Australia’s only reported cladding fire in Melbourne in 2014) set out to test the VBAs powers. The builders mounted a legal challenge in the Supreme Court to stop the VBA ordering it to fix another six multi-storey towers which it had also constructed with the non-compliant cladding.
The Supreme Court’s judgment came on 22 December 2017. LU Simons lawyers found the helpful Clause 37B. It delivered a whopping win!
Part 2 2018: Second building amendment bite
Let’s examine Wynne’s current Building Amendment (Registration of Building Trades and Other Matters Bill 2018 which he slipped into the Legislative Assembly on 26 July 2018. Classified top secret, it was withheld from the public until 7 August 2018. This Bill amends the Building Act 1993 and the Local Government Act 1989. In the Assembly, Wynne summed up the biting intention of his Loans Scheme “to provide for agreements to rectify defective cladding on buildings and charges to fund the rectification”(Hansard).
Referring to Cladding Rectification Agreements (CRAs), Wynne omitted to mention loans, or to cite owners as the target group.
This shadowy oration ended on an optimistic note claiming the Scheme would, “create a pathway for people to follow if they have been asked to rectify non-compliant cladding.” (Hansard p2435)
This was sinful scheming. The people vaguely referred to in these laws are owners, unfairly designated as blameworthy by the government and bonded to the pay pathway. How could owners be the punished when it was builders and developers who ignored building regulations and installed highly dangerous cladding? For those conversant with the bizarre building rule book, this lunacy lies at its bedrock.
The minister postulated misinformation about people being asked to rectify when he, of all people, knows that he agreed to owners being ordered to rectify.
Wynne’s speechifying to the house on the entire bill was settled in a scanty 244 words, the charade over quicker than you could boil a kettle! Unquestioningly, the hot potato issue with its CRAs was the most momentous. Hence, Wynne shunned attention, depressed difficult questions and sidestepped ever so swiftly. Instantly the Loans Laws all wrapped up!
In relation to announcing this news, there was little fanfare and negligible media coverage. The minuscule media release Helping Remove Dangerous Cladding, purported, “This scheme is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and offers owners the cheapest and most efficient way of removing dangerous cladding from their buildings.”
There’s nothing praiseworthy about this “world first”. Fancy wishing to lead the pack in the race to the bottom in third world building and safety standards. Hardly heroic!
Wynne further enlightened that his Bill was about “making properties safe and compliant with building laws, these financing agreements allow cladding to be removed quickly, without affecting property prices.”
Here Wynne failed to state that “safe and compliant” buildings are now mandated as the owners’ obligation. As for his preposterous claim that property prices will not be affected, many industry experts have confirmed this is clearly in the realm of the ridiculous.
Blueprint for Blame
In 2015 the Consumer Protection Act was created. Significantly, in 2017 its Clause 37B secured the Supreme Court ruling to shore up the present bill, contiguous with the loans laws. The crucial link from 2015, fastening it to the loathsome loans in 2018, was wisely stowed away, restricted to seemingly minor other matters– presumably to discourage and deter public interest.
Thus, the delay was never about time to weigh up the consequences for consumers or the community. It was not about “safety”, or builders being “compliant with building laws”, or “helping” owners.
It was solely about buying time to delimit the legislation to achieve the planned objectives. From 2015 to 2018, under the façade of protecting consumers, officialdom’s strategy was pushed in progressive stages, each sliding seamlessly and silently to stitch up the swindle.
Wynne had to hold off on any announcements until the time was right. This required Wynne’s poker face, the block-out and the lockout of the real stakeholders, and dogged determination to hold steadfast under pressure to pull it off.
With the full deck of cards, all our money – and under the direction of the beneficiaries – once the hand was laid down and the trump played, it was an “open misere’, an unbeatable winning hand. In reality, the blueprint for blame was drawn long ago, constructed to guarantee that the intended victims were clueless, utterly defenceless and unable to prevent impending disaster.
Loans Laws: Cladding Rectification Agreements (CRAs)
In a nutshell, the Act and attending Explanatory Memorandum specify the purpose of Cladding Rectification Agreements (CRAs) as expediting a tripartite agreement between owners (or owners’ corporations with 75 per cent of owners to consent), a lending body and the council to “provide a mechanism to rectify non-compliant cladding” by “facilitating the provision of funds”.
These funds are demonstrably loans, but in this legislative arrangement the English language definition is adjusted. No longer a mortgage, although referred to as money loaned in Clause 79 of the Explanatory Memorandum, this debt has been ingeniously dubbed a service charge. It seems there are no limits to innovative reform genius.
To consider the most significant corrupted characteristics.
First, councils are the pivotal players. They may, or may not, decide to sign up for this Scheme. There is a carrot for councils however – the charge of an administration fee.
Second, because they have no alternatives, this deal will propel financially able owners to secure a loan “with prohibitive costs”. Selling is not an option.
“Losing up to 90 per cent of the value of a property would spell financial doom for home owners and investors alike”.
Third, and self-evidently, it depends on whether owners can afford a loan. Notably, in recent weeks, some owners who have received orders to rectify (without knowing of the loans scheme) have declared on radio that their circumstances would not allow them to take on any more financial debt. So what happens to them?
Ultimately, as controlled consumers, their choices are limited. Take a loan or liquidate and lose everything. Not a choice. So distraught owners, up against the wall, will try to ward off the wolf and opt to repay the loan with interest “in equal instalments” to councils over 10 years.
There are a number of specific conditions pertaining to CRAs. For example, before signing up, owners must declare any debts and existing mortgages to the council, and also notify their mortgagee and obtain agreement.
Other unmistakably troublesome issues are hidden in the fine detail of the explanatory memorandum. For example, the Council must declare the charge, and of course it “may be varied”.
In addition this charge on the land attracts penalties, “subject to recovery, along with any penalty interest”
This Loan and penalties apply to owners. Therefore, should desperate and financially impoverished owners be driven to sell, or be sold up because they cannot make the repayments, they will lose their life’s savings.
Finally, if an apartment owner tried to sell, the loan is on-sold with the property. This invites the question of, who would purchase such an apartment?
To conclude, from a reading of the 7 September 2018 transcript of the Legislative Council speeches (Hansard), it seems that much of importance in this bill remains concealed. As usual, not in the public interest.
The damage bill
Let us analyse the likely damage bill. Although precise statistics are unknown (official estimates are incomplete and unreliable) we can formulate an educated guesstimate.
In Victoria, industry experts estimate that between 5,000 and 20,000 buildings are contenders in the potentially lethal cladding stakes.
If we take the lower end of the estimated number of buildings, 5,000, and then count 50 lots (apartment owners) in an average strata block (some 80, some 400), that would total 250,000 owners. Even more are impacted if we include all family members. With each owner taking an average loan of $70,000, including interest over 10 years of $45,000 (based on a Macquarie bank loan calculator) this would total $115,000 per owner.
Then if we multiply that debt by 250,000 owners, the aggregate bill is $28.75 Billion. Stop. Take a breath. Yes, you did read $28.75 billion!
If we take the upper end of the estimated number of buildings with cladding as 20,000 and multiply as above, the aggregate bill is $115 billion.
Compute the upshot of the cumulative loss to owners and the ballooning booty bequeathed to the builders/developers. Be mindful this is a very conservative, measured evaluation to quantify the devastating damage bill, and only for Victoria.
Compare and contrast consumer safety in the auto industry: targeting Takata airbags
By way of illustration, the mandatory recall of dangerous Takata airbags exemplifies the conduct of the auto industry. Currently it is sending a powerful alarm to car owners:
“Are you travelling with a killer in your car?”
A persuasive signal of clear and present danger. An urgent killer call to action. The car manufacturers have accepted paying the rectification costs. It is their obligation and in the interest of people’s lives. Logically this is as it should be.
In stark contradiction, owners paid, in good faith, for a compliant, safe home. They were defrauded. Now powerless and helpless, our government has compelled them to pay for the second time (some via a loan with interest). The outcome is a double whammy!
If we compare the cost of an average car at say $50,000 with an average apartment at 10 times the price (for most people the biggest investment of their lives), it is inconceivable that owners could be so unprotected? Then there is the risk factor. A one in two chance of the inflator airbags rupturing in an accident, and possibly an equal or greater chance of harm from the cladding-coated buildings.
Let’s contemplate the threat to human life. By comparison with cars, the loss of life in one building would be way higher than in the case of one car accident – hundreds of people could die. How could a government gamble so readily and remove all requisite obligations for the big end of town?
People’s lives should count.
This is an incontrovertible case of profits ahead of people. Another shocking story will illustrate what builders will do to control reputational damage in their “commercial interest”. In October 2017, LU Simon Builders publicly promised to rectify the hazardous cladding on the Lacrosse Tower. The outstanding Council Order on the owners required rectification by July 2018. Astutely, LU Simon asserted their commitment as a “gesture of good faith” but it was purely a publicity stunt.
No action was taken.
In September 2018, the killer cladding remains on the Lacrosse building. This is four years after the raging inferno, and when, given the intensity of the fire, the experts were incredulous that no-one died. Now, long after the rectification was to be completed, the owners have been notified about taking loans and are facing huge expenses to fight the builders in VCAT. This likely to be a triple whammy – Wynne’s solution for the victims.
We know a killer fire could flare at any time. We know that the financial burden placed on millions will drive far too many to bankruptcy, to end up broke and broken. At the mere stroke of a pen, millions of people have been targeted to prop-up the untouchables.
It is unimaginable that the servants of the people have empowered a small elite to ignore consumers’ and public safety. Most telling is the preparedness of those in power to limit the fundamental rights of the majority of people. This is in defiance of our own state and federal consumer laws, and contrary to the international organizations to which we are signatories.
This scenario is not science fiction. It is happening right here, right now.
This critique does not take account of the Australia-wide damage bill for this cladding – liable to be hundreds of billions of dollars.
Nor is there any examination of the plight of tenants. Nor the predicament of future purchasers. Nor the financial, building and safety legacy to the community. Through information asymmetry, untruthfulness and corrupted government and governance, we have all been nullified, compelled to be the uninformed. Literally thrown to the wolves!
No protection and no consumer rights. Denied the right to even pursue preventative buyer-beware research for self-protection: this too stolen from us all.
More perversely, apart from rendering the innocent victims as responsible, these latest ruthless reforms have reinforced the fail culture and buttressed an industry constructed on the law of no consequences. This is a red flag for an ever-worsening disaster.
The privileged remain protected, legalized fraud lingers, and all of us are left to suffer in silence as the biggest losers.
We are in a minefield, one char-grilled over 40 years, the architects of the plan knowing that one day the bomb would detonate.
The aftershocks and the full fallout for consumers lie ahead. What we do know is that there will be horrific losses for the community and far-reaching, painful consequences for families.
We also know that our government will continue to hide the truth. Brace for the future shock!
"In an irresponsible and callous move and buried in the discussion paper of the Authority To Control Wildlife Review, the Daniel Andrews’ Government has signalled interest in adopting a policy that will see ALL sick, injured and orphaned kangaroos, wombats, possums and cockatoos KILLED instead of rescued and rehabilitated. This short-sighted and catastrophic policy may act to drive wildlife carers underground and will see members of the public refusing to hand over animals to vets and shelters in the fear that joeys and saveable animals will be automatically killed, resulting in horrendous and widespread animal suffering." (Helen Round, Wildlife carer, Macedon Ranges, Victoria.)
Text of letter to media
As one of the wildlife carers in Victoria, who shoulders much of the cost and responsibility of caring for sick, orphaned and injured wildlife in Victoria, I am writing to you because of a recent horrific proposal coming from the Andrews' State Government that could force Victorian wildlife carers to kill all healthy, saveable and viable kangaroos, wombats, possums and cockatoos that come in to care.
It’s a tough life being a volunteer. Apart from the exhausting, relentlessly routine physical work involved in wildlife rehabilitation, (cleaning pens & feed bins, round the clock feeding schedules), there’s the financial outlay on items like feeding equipment, cloth pouches, towels, fencing materials, veterinary medications, petrol and electricity bills.
Wildlife carers – who are mostly overtired, under resourced and overstretched women – are currently fighting a state government proposal that will result in mass animal deaths and horrific and widespread animal suffering. But, we need to be visible to be effective and that is why I am writing to you.
Authority to control wildlife - culling abuses
In an irresponsible and callous move and buried in the discussion paper of the Authority To Control Wildlife Review, the Daniel Andrews’ Government has signalled interest in adopting a policy that will see ALL sick, injured and orphaned kangaroos, wombats, possums and cockatoos KILLED instead of rescued and rehabilitated. This short-sighted and catastrophic policy may act to drive wildlife carers underground and will see members of the public refusing to hand over animals to vets and shelters in the fear that joeys and saveable animals will be automatically killed, resulting in horrendous and widespread animal suffering.
As they rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, hundreds, if not thousands, of trained, experienced and self-funded volunteer wildlife carers and rescuers provide a service to the community that the public expect and the government fails to and cannot hope to provide.
Shockingly, volunteers fund all wildlife rescue and rehabilitation from their own pockets with no funding from the state government apart from a tokenistic and inadequate annual wildlife shelter grant system. Yet the Andrews’ Government is planning to deprive the community of this invaluable service, declaring that it is too costly to raise these animals and that they want to free up shelter resources. This is a cynical and disingenuous ploy and an insulting falsehood from a government who does not fund wildlife rescue and rehabilitation and support a raft of policies that are detrimental to wildlife across all sectors.
No one else can give the same level of service with the commitment, dedication and efficiency that existing volunteer wildlife carers and rescuers provide. No Government budget would be big enough and no department would be competent enough to achieve the same outcomes.
As carers and rescuers, we are committed to rescuing injured animals and we will continue to rescue and euthanise when necessary but, we will not become Daniel Andrew’s ‘killing machines’ to slaughter viable and healthy animals. We will not facilitate a policy that is morally corrupt and that has no scientific merit.
It is incomprehensible that politicians and bureaucrats have not considered the psychological impact these cruel policies will have on wildlife rescuers, carers and veterinarians who will be expected to kill viable animals, let alone the impact on members of the community who also encounter wildlife in need.
The fate of Victoria’s native wildlife is in the hands of a mega-department with interests that conflict with flora and fauna conservation and that is actively working to harm and exploit wildlife for political and economic gain.
I want to ask everyone to contact Victorian parliamentarians and remind them that wildlife and wildlife volunteers are valued, that Australia has the highest rate of mammalian extinction on the planet and that all ‘threatened’ and ‘extinct species’ were once considered ‘common and secure’.
VicRoads recently closed down Hoddle Street for a week to work on streamlining the corridor. The project is expected to continue for the rest of 2018.
"Streamlining" in this case is a euphemism for increasing the capacity of Hoddle Street for higher volumes of vehicle traffic every day. Whilst dedicated bus lanes are part of the project the Andrews government intends that the overwhelming future growth in traffic movements will be passenger cars.
The project was previously under serious consideration by the Brumby Labor government which lost office in 2010. It was sidelined by the incoming Baillieu government which, at least initially, sensibly "parked" the project with a view to, at last, building a rail line to Doncaster Hill instead. That did not materialise in the wake of an inadequate analysis that contemplated a rail line from Melbourne CBD, not to the major passenger destination of Doncaster Hill, but to the "Park and Ride" at the intersection of the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster Road in Doncaster.
The fact is that increasing road capacity at the expense of public transport, as the Hoddle Street streamlining project does, is far less space efficient than increased public transport capacity. One fully loaded train carries about as many people as one freeway lane occupied by passenger vehicles in a whole hour. The successor Napthine government's favourite, if critically flawed infrastructure project, the proposed East West Link, would have sacrificed significant open space, including much of the priceless parkland of Royal Park for a "spaghetti junction" with the Tullamarine Freeway in Parkville.
Importantly, it would have also absorbed the median strip on the Eastern Freeway between Hoddle Street and Bulleen Road for additional vehicle lanes. As this space has for years been earmarked for a rail line to Doncaster it would have dealt a severe, if not terminal, blow to the promise of an acceptable public transport service for residents of Melbourne's north eastern suburbs who have no tram or train services.
As we head into this 2018 election year we have a deep obligation to put a stop to this freeway madness and the serial sidelining of public transport by the major parties. There is no sign yet, though, that they have heard the message. If the status quo were to be maintained we also face the future threat of further "streamlining" of Punt Road to the south of the current Hoddle Street project. Existing residential properties in South Yarra would be the victims of that exercise, if it were to see the light of day.
In addition to resurrecting the discredited East West Link project, the coalition also wishes to build the so-called North East Link from Greensborough to the Eastern Freeway. The Labor government, if re-elected, would also build the North East Link as well as the West Gate Tunnel, a cosy deal which it hatched with toll road operator Transurban but did not declare in their election campaigning in 2014. The West Gate Tunnel is proposed instead of the adequate public transport desperately needed by western suburbs residents who the Andrews government claims to serve.
As part of the North East Link project the Victorian government proposes to add seven extra lanes to the Eastern Freeway between Bulleen Road and Springvale Road. The North East Link Authority, the government body established by the Andrews government to "spin" the project to the public has so far been mum on how this is to work. However, one thing is certain: Substantial public parkland would be lost, including much of the Koonung Creek Reserve. This Reserve, even in its current condition is a remnant of the extensive open space in the valley that was lost to the Eastern Freeway when it was opened in 1977 and then progressively extended eastward. Now they want more of it. The Reserve would be reduced to a "buffer zone" between the bloated Eastern Freeway and ever closer residential areas along the Eastern Freeway from Bulleen to Nunawading.
For its part, the West Gate Tunnel would feed more motor car traffic from the western suburbs into the inner suburbs and the Melbourne CBD in much the same way as the government's Hoddle Street "streamlining" project and the East West Link, if it were to materialise, will feed more traffic into inner suburbs and the CBD from the north and the east.
All in all the Victorian government seems set on filling up Melbourne CBD with cars every day in the same manner as the trainless Melbourne Airport.