Building Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Bill 2016
I am pleased to make a contribution on the Building Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Bill 2016.
Melbourne is expanding, and new suburbs are proposed.
There will be a great deal of new housing under construction over the coming years, and a lot of this will be in the new growth areas around Melbourne.
When I drive into Melbourne I often feel regret when I see so much of our rich agricultural land going to buildings.
I often drive down Somerton Road. It is up on a hill, and you look out over the city of Melbourne; it is a truly magnificent view of Melbourne. Up until recently, when you looked down that hill you would see a wheat crop in full growth in November and December — golden, blowing in the wind and truly looking wonderful. It will not be long before that is just another housing estate, and it is one of the very regretful things about development, about the spread of our cities that is taking place. I think many of the members here who drive in from the country have noticed over the years that encroachment onto what is rich agricultural land.
The loss of that land is something to be taken into account, and it should be reflected in the policies of government when it comes to density issues and perhaps building more buildings in cities along our public transport routes. I know that that is under consideration, but the loss of agricultural land in areas where we have plentiful rainfall is truly significant. No irrigation is needed to grow that crop on Somerton Road; it is on a hill. Think about Werribee, a suburb that has been renowned for its market gardens since the early times of settlement. Farmers there are looking further out of Melbourne to find land that will be suitable to grow the crops that they once grew on that very rich land.
While this bill contains a range of provisions which implement a package of measures to improve dispute resolution, registration requirements and disciplinary processes, it also strengthens sanctions for certain conduct. A number of the amendments respond to findings of the Victorian Auditor-General.
I am pleased that dispute resolution will be made easier and will be improved. I know from personal experience how important conciliation conferences at an early stage of any sort of litigation can be, and the opportunity, particularly when it comes to disputes around building, which are often incredibly complex and very protracted, is very important. So I am pleased that the bill addresses this in some way.
Among other things, the bill responds to the recent demolition of the Corkman hotel in Carlton. The bill strengthens regulatory powers to enable the Victorian Building Authority and other regulators to take a more powerful position, and it provides for more offences with higher penalties so as to act as a powerful disincentive to people who do the wrong thing.
The preservation of our older buildings is very important, and it was interesting to see the level of outrage in the community when the owners of the Corkman proceeded with that demolition. I think people really value our heritage buildings, and with many of our older buildings I believe people in the community have a sense of ownership of them, even when they belong to private individuals or corporations.
I would like to talk about Shepparton for a minute. Shepparton had a very different history from cities like Bendigo and Ballarat, which were part of the gold mining boom, so as a result of that, those cities have ended up with some truly magnificent buildings that are still there and are truly valued. Shepparton was born out of an agricultural community. It did not have the benefit of a mining boom and the wealth that led to that sort of building occurring in the early days. Shepparton is surrounded by fertile soils, it has plenty of sunshine and up until more recent times I would have said it had plenty of water. The irrigation was pivotal to the growth of the area and to the development of wealth in the area.
It is a great shame that we are faced with a situation where because of government policy we are effectively in a government-induced drought as a result of the Murray-Darling Basin plan. Just last week the Minister for Water here released a socio-economic impact statement on the impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin plan since it commenced in 2012, and those impacts have been significant. It is quite clear that our dairy industry is at a tipping point, and should a further 450 gigalitres of water be taken out of our community, it could have very serious impacts and change the face of our communities. We have already lost many dairy farmers from our industry, and that depletes populations in our towns.
In a city like Shepparton there are a number of older buildings, but not many, and it was in 1974 that the Shepparton post office, a grand old red-brick building with a clock tower, was demolished. People still bemoan the fact that that building was demolished, and it was replaced by a very ordinary 1970s brown-brick building, which still sits there. It is no longer the post office. Our post office is really like a lot of the ones you see around the city now — just little buildings providing a fairly basic service.
I heard the member for Mildura speaking about older homes in his community, and of course there are many homesteads and homes that are truly wonderful buildings. They show us the heritage of our rural development over a long time. I was really quite sad to see in yesterday's Australian an article about how a number of properties that have really formed the basis of the merino sheep industry in this country — Wanganella, Peppinella and Boonoke in the southern Riverina — are all up for sale as a package to foreign ownership. These properties are such a pivotal part of our history, particularly during the last century.
I grew up in the town of Jerilderie in the southern Riverina, and those properties are probably a bit before my time, but they used to employee 20 or 30 people. They had their own butchers and bakery shops. They formed a rich part of the social network of the local town. These things have changed significantly. We have seen the very substantial loss of the Kidman properties to overseas ownership. It is so important that these buildings — wonderful shearing sheds, wonderful homesteads on these properties — be preserved. There is a real fear across Victoria and New South Wales that places and homes like that may get neglected and not caught up in the rush to preserve heritage buildings, as they are in our cities and towns.
I am pleased the government is taking the step of increasing penalties and making it much more difficult for people with little or no regard for our heritage to behave as has happened in our community from time to time. For years we have heard complaints of poor-quality buildings and a lack of redress available to people who are the victims of shonky or poor-quality building. The building list before the courts has always been a busy one, and it is most unfortunate that people have to resort to litigation to try and get some sort of redress when they find themselves in a situation where the builder has done the wrong thing by them. It is pleasing to see that the registration requirements will insist on individuals and corporations passing various tests, and in the case of individuals they must be fit and proper persons.
The government has made announcements in relation to stamp duty relief and increased grants for first home buyers. I think we can anticipate that this will have some impact on the construction industry and that there will be a lot more homes being built. I certainly hope that that is the case in cities such as Shepparton. I am pleased that this legislation will provide a higher level of protection for those people entering the housing market, particularly first home owners. For them to find themselves in a dispute with a builder is just gutting and not something that they need. They have usually struggled very hard to get together the money they need for such an opportunity. They do not need conflict and they do not need litigation; they just want to move into their home and start living. For all of these reasons, I support this bill and commend it to the house.