Campaspe planning breakthrough welcome

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed a long-awaited move by the state government to allow Campaspe Shire Council to take the next step towards opening more land for housing in Echuca West.

The council is now exhibiting across the shire a proposed amendment to its planning scheme that, once approved, would re-zone 615 hectares for urban growth and 5000 houses.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said she had questioned the Planning Minister in Parliament on June 24 about Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning delays preventing the council from consulting its communities about the draft amendment.

“Housing shortages in rural and regional Victoria are a very significant issue,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This is the case in almost all of the communities I represent across Northern Victoria, but it’s especially so in larger centres like Echuca with all its attractions and where Campaspe Shire’s population across the next 15 years is forecast to grow 11.4 per cent to almost 43,000 residents.

“I took the Campaspe council’s concern to Parliament and asked the Minister to expedite the Echuca West planning scheme amendment after I became aware that DELWP had taken six months to respond to the draft on which the council had worked in partnership with the Victorian Planning Authority for more than four years.

“It’s good to see the government has taken action so the council can now get on with the next step and community consultation.

“I spoke today with Campaspe mayor Chrissy Weller about this and congratulated the council on its vision and persistence.”

Rural housing shortage demands policy reset

Adjournment matter

Victoria needs a policy reset to resolve critical housing shortages in rural communities and enhance recovery in housing and rental markets. Fast-tracking approvals of ‘Big Build’ funding for projects like Yarriambiack Shire’s housing plan is one option.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:09):

My adjournment is for the Minister for Housing.

It follows the comments made to MLCs last week about chronic housing shortages in Northern Victoria during our Bright sitting by the Alpine Shire mayor John Forsyth and other local stakeholders during a committee inquiry hearing. It also follows my regular discussions throughout this term of Parliament with Northern Victoria councils and constituents about these shortages. As Cr Forsyth said, solutions to this problem for affected communities are in need of development across all levels of government.

My adjournment matter tonight is also informed by the release last month of a detailed new report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) titled Pathways to Regional Housing Recovery from COVID-19. That study contains a number of valuable observations and findings, including important analysis and commentary about some of the many specific, discrete housing issues and recovery needs faced by regional and rural communities in the wake of the pandemic. For some rural and regional locations in Victoria, the existence of housing shortages is relatively new.

These shortages also spill over to a range of other problems, foremost among them the inability of many employers to attract a sufficient number of suitably skilled staff to local organisations and services. As we all heard last week and, indeed, as the AHURI study lays bare specifically in relation to the impacts of the COVID experience, these housing shortages are also typical and very wrongly becoming increasingly pronounced.

Among the reasons for this are that many regional areas across Australia are now experiencing a marked increase in housing demand. The authors of the AHURI report say this increase is most likely due to changing household preferences towards regional living and the notion that this is now perceived as a far safer prospect than living in a city in a pandemic. The impacts of all of this are being witnessed in a range of forms, including in significant price rises, reductions in vacancy rates, new pressures on housing and rental affordability in these areas and demand generally very substantially outstripping supply.

The action I therefore seek from the Minister is clarification on what changes, if any, will be made to the policy settings in his portfolio to address not just the critical housing shortages in rural and regional areas but also to enhance recovery in housing and rental markets specifically.

Change could speed bushfire rebuild

Bushfire Recovery Victoria data shows 458 homes lost or damaged, but almost 18 months later fewer than three per cent of people affected are back in permanent housing.

Justice Party seeks government help to speed housing fix in bushfire communities

Tania Maxwell MP will seek Victorian government support to alleviate the challenges and financial costs still faced by people who lost homes to last year’s Black Summer bushfires when the Legislative Council meets in Bright on April 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the regional sitting had been convened to acknowledge the fires’ impact in the North East and the serious business and tourism knock-ons from these disasters in communities that she represents, including Alpine, Towong, Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

“The Victorian government has worked hard to help people back on their feet, but we must be able to expedite rebuilding and recovery,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This includes finding ways to accommodate tradespeople so they can get the job done and families can move into their new homes.

“The fires had an enormous physical impact across our communities, especially in Towong, Alpine and East Gippsland local government areas.

“But mental trauma and stress brought on by these disasters continue for many families.

“Bushfire Recovery Victoria data shows 458 homes were destroyed or damaged in Victoria and almost 18 months later it’s estimated that fewer than three per cent of the people displaced have moved back into permanent housing.

“The motion I’ll put to the sitting encourages us as parliamentarians to recognise the devastation and distress suffered by people in our communities whose homes were destroyed or damaged, who have been living in temporary accommodation and who are going through the arduous process of rebuilding.

“At a practical level, I want Parliament to be keenly aware of the challenges delaying and compromising the re-housing effort.

“Often there are significant financial gaps between insurance pay-outs and the costs of building in a bushfire-prone area, particularly the spending needed so new buildings comply with Victoria’s Bushfire Attack Level ratings system.

“There’s also a severe shortage of readily available accommodation so builders, plumbers, electricians and other essential tradies can deliver what they’re engaged to do in the communities where this help is needed.”

Ms Maxwell said her motion would ask the government to consider urgent changes to policies and regulations to alleviate fundamental, ongoing problems.

“As an elected representative of communities that have been so seriously affected, it’s my job to make sure all parliamentarians understand the personal, economic and community impacts, and for the government to find ways to deliver swift and effective solutions,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said estimates of the fires’ economic impact in eastern Victoria showed:

  • $114-199 million decline across all industries in Alpine, Towong and East Gippsland
  • $79-181m decline across all industries in Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wellington and Wodonga local government areas
  • $330-350m in tourism losses in bushfire-affected regions between December 2019 and March 2020.
  • 10,000 livestock lost
  • 742 properties required clean-up