Attendee Report on "Melbourne Let's talk about the future" Forum
Later, the lady offered a statistic that I queried. The table-leader supported her saying that "she is with the … Institute". This is when I learnt of the lady’s employment with this institute for the first time. When I suggested that such an institute - well known to me - was actually no reliable authority on the subject, the lady burst into tears and left complaining greatly at my rudeness. Others, including our ex-councillor, joined in loudly in her support. The ex-councillor declared he was sick of me being rude and would leave for another table. He later returned.
Attendee Report on
"Melbourne Let's talk about the future" Forum.
Also know as Melbourne Futures Forum / Plan Melbourne / Metropolitan Planning Strategy.
Saturday 2/3/2013 at Docklands, 9am - 3:45pm.
Author of this report:
Resident of Stonnington with long involvement in Planning issues.
Sponsor: Vic State Government. [Paid $50 to attendees – Candobetter Ed.]
Planning Minister Matthew Guy,
Lucinda Hartley on 'Mebourne Quality of Life'
Prof John Stanley on 'the 20 minute City'
Tony Nicholson on 'Housing' (the need for more).
Audience: 600 people from greater Melbourne. Sourcing unknown.
Some on my table heard of it from a general Market Survey company and having no supposed
previous involvement with planning issues.
Residents herded by Compulsory seating
Format: Audience members were all directed to a particular table (compulsory seating), each with a pre-appointed trained Table Leader.
The thinking behind the composition of each table is unknown. Couples for example were split up. Some demographic, identifiaction and method-of-referral info was available to organizers.
There were three main speakers and then table discussions lead by the table leader on the basis of pre-arranged questions. The table-leader wrote down our discussion comments and these were apparently fed back during intermissions soon after. An interesting innovation was that each attendee was provided a wireless number pad device to respond to survey questions.
Documents referred to:
- Attendees were encouraged to have read at least the executive summary of the "Melbourne let's talk about the future discussion paper" 94 pages as at http://www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/discussion-paper .
- A smaller hand out at the forum "Melbourne Facts: Trends and Opportunities, November 2012" (24 pages).
"Plan Melbourne" is an exercise in leading people towards specific pre-defined conclusions under the pretence of open consultation. The audience, most I think with no previous planning involvement, would have been easily mislead.
Plan Melbourne’s characteristics:
It lacks a concrete definition (numbers) of basic quality of life aims.
It relies on distorted 'surveys' and an arbitrary desire to be "bigger than Sydney" and growth is good
It steered well clear of the Elephant in the Room of Government policies on rapid population increase.
Beware the industry lobbyist lurking at your table!
What we should do :
1) We should all work to overcome widespread naivete about the State control of Council Planning Schemes
and the Elephant in the Room of population growth.
2) Stonnington Strategic planning (I consulted them) would value responses from residents as to the needs
and priorities for Stonnington around Melbourne Futures. They offered their view that " 'Plan Melbourne' is
an exercise in leading people towards specific pre-defined conclusions under the pretence of open
We have a long way to go here. I await the evidence based-discussion Mr Baillieu suggested he is prepared to have.
2.1) Introductory Speakers.
Mr Baillieu / Mr Guy: They want people to understand and own Melbourne Future, want an evidence-based discussion for a livable and sustainable Melbourne and are here to be inspired by our ideas.
But it seems the Elephant in the Room is to be kept well and truly under the carpet; The Planning Minister told us at the the previous smaller public forum late 2012 that "Population is not a State issue". Former Premier Steve Brack's autobiography 2012 tells us what the bi-partisan agreements on all this really are. No one, and I mean no one, wanted t raise it here as far as I heard.
2.2) Stonnington Strategic Planning Consultation
I consulted Stonnington Strategic Planning recently to get their view on this "Melbourne, let's talk about the future" discussion paper. They thought the discussion paper was an attempt to lead people towards pre-defined outcomes under the pretence of open consultation.
I agree and found this Forum too was closely orchestrated to the same end.
2.3) Growth is Good!
Speakers encouraged us to think how great it would be if Melbourne overtook Sydney in size. No mention why we should do this or what Sydney problems that would bring. We were told how many cities are bigger than Melbourne but still in the top 10 of the (infamous) 'Livable Cities' index.
2.4) The World's Most Liveable City Index [Misused and Misleading]
Speakers relied heavily on the "Liveability Index" sourced from The Economist Intelligence Unit 2012, with Melbourne as number one to show how much people should appreciate the previous planning success of Melbourne and the supposed amenity enjoyed. This is all a serious misuse of that Index and entirely misleading.
The Index is not a survey of residents. It is an assessment of what hardship allowance should apply when company staff have to be sent overseas. So it covers many things from climate to gender equality, access to health care, risk of terrorism and, yes, the "Availability of good quality housing". But this is not about average housing amenity but only the superior housing that overseas company placements desire. These are all good things but it does not cover Strategic Urban Design considerations for Melbourne. So its use here is deliberately misleading. You can inspect most of the criteria yourself at...
It would benefit proper discussion if all of us brought this misuse of the Index to the attention of others.
The summary booklet expanded on this misuse. Top of Page 1 mentions how Melbourne is "voted" number one and the Economist unit is named as the source. There is no "Voting" involved. It also refers on page 2 to "careful planning" such as Melbourne 2030 (M2030) as supposedly getting us to number one. This though Premier Bailleau spoke on how little the public and Councils had embraced it.
Our particular table leader works as a Social Planner for a local council. She volunteered that really it was no good assessing just the very best housing as this was not affordable to the average. She further recommended the Mercer Quality of Life Survey" instead of the Economist Index. The Mercer survey can be seen at
Here, Melbourne in 2012 is the 17th city for quality of life behind Sydney at number 10.
Read all its criteria too, it is not perfect for the purpose either. Unfortunately, as for the Economist Index, you have to pay money for all the full detail.
2.5) Failure to define what residents actually value.
A starting flaw in the whole discussion is a failure to define what Melbourne residents actually value in terms of housing and so how Urban Design / Metropolitan Plannning Strategy would contributes to quality of life and how Plan Melbourne will respect what we already have let alone improve it. I think of the amenity of my own home and immediate neighbourhood; access to sun, storage, privacy... and how this will be protected into the future. Surely people want choice in housing location and style too at an achievable price. All agree that the real cost of all housing whether bought or rented has increased in real terms against income. So for a start Planning has been failing here and the only proferred solution is to build denser across the whole Melborne - without sacrificing 'Livability'. Hmm, how is this to measured again.
There are of course wider concerns but Plan Melbourne avoids the critical immediate ones, all those already so often abused in Planning Scheme applications.
2.6) Subjects Covered (as introduced by the three main speakers)
The Forum did cover
- the shortage of public open space (is this to be a replacement for loss of Private open space?)
- the "20 minute city" (we can all agree on the need for better Public transport and there was overwhelming support for greater frequency of service), and
- that 'more housing' is apparently needed all over. No speaker dared mention that "more housing" meant "greater density".
2.7) Directed responses - use of wireless keypad.
As said every attendee was given a wireless keypad device to indicate responses to multi-choice questions. The questions were displayed on the round-the-room display screens and read out in their entirety by the M.C. We were given ample time to respond and then the tallied responses were shown seconds later as a bar graph.
Such survey questions were constrained in subject and choice of answer. It would have been a golden opportunity to ask the audience whether we actually wanted Melbourne to "have to" grow bigger and denser. We were never asked what were the problems in the current planning scheme or how it had affected us personally.
They did not ask attendees to declare their stake in the Plan Melbourne process whether as renting, as a current or prospective home owner or even as an industry pro-growth developer. Such basic room demography would have been colouring attendee responses and useful to all to know but was not revealed to the audience. I suspect there were indeed industry people there (see below).
Since I assume our response pads were individually coded, I also suspect there will be some interesting cross referencing in the background of all our individual responses from throughout the day. I doubt the humble public will be privy to the results of this cross analysis.
2.8) The Elephant in the Room.
On the discussion paper at page 6 of 94 under 'Meeting our future needs' Prof Roz Hansen states the rarely aired numbers about population growth.
"Population growth in Melbourne is caused by natural increases and migration - currently about 38 per cent from natural increases and 62 per cent from migration".
Even then you have to go to ABS stats (catalog 3101.1) to confirm that she is referring implicitly to Net Overseas Migration. Net interstate migration is not significant here. By coincidence, the population growth and its components are the same for Melbourne and the average for the whole of Australia. But individual states/cities vary.
No one wants to say that Australia is one of the world’s leaders in population growth - but it is true. The issue isn't whether we are going to change policy some time in the future to cause a 'Big Australia'. That policy has been running for years, but no one knows about it. My concern is about the numbers, their effects on planning and the economy and nothing else. We are a long way from a debate on economic aspects.
While all speakers referred to population growth as driving the urgent need for more housing and infrastructure, none referred to the detail on components of this growth.
A main speaker, Tony Nicholson, speaking on the need for more housing, said only that "natural increase is a big part of that growth". He carefully avoided bothering to quantify either component for the benefit of the audience.
The summary booklet on p3/24 describes "Melbourne is a fast growing city", that it is growing faster than Sydney but it omits all mention of actual migration.
No one on my table mentioned rapid population growth as an issue at all. Not even when acknowledging the big increase in the real cost of housing.
A main speaker quoted percentages of how Social Housing had "fallen from 6 per cent to 4 per cent in recent times." It was not mentioned that there is an increase in the raw numbers (I believe). What is happening is that raw numbers had fallen behind in proportion to the new demands of rapid population growth.
I conclude that throughout the day all speakers carefully avoided all mention of overly rapid population growth, its components, and government policies behind it. Again, my concern is about the numbers, their impacts and absolutely nothing else.
2.9) At my table and the trouble with the "institute" lady.
The table discussion was well convened by our table-leader. All table-leaders had been preselected from Local/State government bodies I think. Ours an Officer from a Local Council and frankly very able in leading the open discussion from a set of pre-defined questions.
There was a total of seven at my table. One was a former city councillor, the only attendee I recognised. He supported my proposition that Council planning schemes were now totally controlled by State government. The four other attendees at my table appeared to have no personal planning system experience.
I saw no evidence at my table that anyone - bar the table leader - had read any part of the prescribed documentation.
At one point I got in a little survey at my own table. "Would you welcome a higher building and built closer to the boundary than your own home right next door to your current home? Yes it blocks your view and blocks your sun." Surprisingly 4 out of 7 said they would welcome this. I am staggered but having stretched the patience already, I had no opportunity to discuss this more. I think it was at around this time the ex-councillor mentioned that many people had reported to him how much they welcomed 590 Orrong. I have no idea where such people come from.
I had some trouble with a lady who it turned out was an employee of a supposedly independent "Institute". They appear in the media lobbying for a Big Australia and increased housing density. On their website they list amongst their affiliates the development companies "Lend Lease" and "Urbis". Their "Cities Fellow" was on the radio recently speaking on the problem of Housing unaffordability. He did not mention population growth because, he tells me when I emailed him, that he was not asked a question on it. He did volunteer on the radio the need for lower taxes and that "residents with strong opinions" were frustrating suburban growth. (See ABC Radio National "Getting the house in order" Friday, February 15, 2013 12:22:00.)
Do you get my understanding of this "institute" yet?
When I mentioned the problems I had with protecting the amenity of my neighbourhood against densification, the lady employee of this institute suggested that the planning system allowed residents to object and be heard so, she said, this was democratic. I responded that "There had been no democracy in the Planning System for 20 years". She was plainly offended here but said nothing. The ex-Councillor, rather than endorsing me, volunteered instead that I was being rude.
Later, the lady offerred a statistic that I queried. The table-leader supported her saying that "she is with the … Institute". This is when I learnt of the lady’s employment with this institute for the first time. When I suggested that such an institute - well known to me - was actually no reliable authority on the subject, the lady burst into tears and left complaining greatly at my rudeness. Others, including our ex-councillor, joined in loudly in her support. The ex-councillor declared he was sick of me being rude and would leave for another table. He later returned.
So a couple of points to keep in mind when attending forums such as this. It is the second time I have found an undeclared lobbyist seriously affecting things…
• do expect any State/Council forums to be well attended by members of industry lobby groups
• they will not declare their professional interest to the group
• they will be disruptive and warp the debate
• they will engender the sympathy of others (or mock resident concerns)
• the public often swallow whole, the misrepresentation of independence the "institute" projects by its name alone.
Thus successfully shamed by an employee of a pro-development lobby group I had to be very meek and mild or get thrown out (seriously!).
So I got nowhere near to raising the matter of the elephant in the room. I already knew that one at the table insists "that immigration is a vanishingly small part of population growth". I don't expect to get far with him at the table, he knows nothing about 62%.
We have a long way to go here. I await the evidence based-discussion Mr Baillieu suggested he is prepared to have.
Plan Melbourne doesn't want it.
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