Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — I rise today to speak to the Planning and Building Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability and Other Matters) Bill 2017. It is a bill essentially of four parts: the facilitation of affordable housing supply, applications to amend referred wind energy facility planning permits, an amendment to the Building Act 1993 in relation to suspension of works and a further amendment to the Building Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Act 2017 in relation to enforcement and compliance matters.
Certainly there is a vast range of issues that this particular bill contemplates. I will go to the first one, around affordable housing. The Greens welcome the clarification of the process for developers to enter into agreements for the voluntary provision of affordable housing. As noted by my colleague in the other place, the member for Melbourne, this is a good development, but it is grossly deficient if this state is to address the housing affordability crisis. The Andrews government is allowing developers to exploit public housing estates to build new developments with a very modest increase in the affordable housing allocation. That is not good enough when we have growing lists of people needing public housing because they have been frozen out of private rental markets due to surging rents.
I now want to move to the part of the bill that talks about changes to the Building Act. Last year in this Parliament we were presented with a bill in response to the illegal demolition of the heritagelisted Carlton Inn, which in its last and least salubrious iteration was known as the Corkman Irish Pub. The Greens welcomed the legislation at the time, as it introduced new indictable offences under the Building Act to provide for significant fines and jail time for people found guilty of demolitions.
We also noted that too little effort had been applied to preserving heritage in this city, with state governments of both colours very ready to do the bidding of developers and allow some prominent examples of cultural heritage to be scrapped. The Greyhound Hotel and the Metro Nightclub immediately come to mind. Since the dastardly act which was the demolition of the Corkman we have seen a continuing stream of scandals, which show how fraught the situation is in the construction and development sector.
People’s life savings have been spent on deposits for homes that were promised and never delivered. For example, I have spoken in this place on the challenges affecting dozens of families in Drouin after a developer walked away leaving shoddy construction work and the ongoing saga affecting the poor Zaitsen family. In both cases the victims have been shunted from minister to minister and from one government agency to another. Noone wants to take responsibility for people who fall through the massive loopholes in building enforcement in Victoria.
Another calamitous scandal is the use of flammable cladding materials on buildings throughout Victoria and indeed Australia. Of course the potentially tragic consequences of this poor practice have been demonstrated with the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London. We had our own near miss with the Lacrosse building in Docklands, which was only averted thanks to the quick response of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the earnest evacuation by the building’s occupants and, unlike Grenfell Tower, the mandatory inclusion of sprinklers.
Anyone in this place who watched the Four Corners investigation earlier this month, on 4 September, into the use of this cladding would be horrified at the potential hazard this creates for lives and property across Australia. The state government’s response to this has been to set up a task force chaired by former Premier Ted Baillieu and former Deputy Premier and Minister for Planning John Thwaites. These are two of the many individuals who were asleep at the wheel while thousands of buildings had flammable cladding installed. They are part of the problem, and it is hard to see them finding a solution other than one that would implicate the failures of governance that occurred while they were in office.
There is a clear need for an overhaul of the way the state of Victoria approaches the regulation of the building industry. The privatisation of building inspection has been a failure. Local government should be empowered to once again take the helm of building inspection and certification. The use of private building inspectors has provided plentiful opportunities for both corruption and poor practice, and there is a disconnect between a building materials standard and building certification. My experience during my time as a local councillor was that very often buildings that had been built did not seem to reflect the plan, did not reflect the setbacks, did not reflect the landscaping endorsed by local government and created enormous issues in terms of private building surveyors signing off on works that simply did not comply, so it is good to see some more strengthening up in this area.
I now want to talk to Mr Davis’s proposed amendments, which go to the heart of this bill in relation to wind power. We have had limited time to look at the amendments, but look at them we have. Essentially the amendments from Mr Davis and the LiberalNationals coalition are their latest attempt to hammer the wind energy industry. This is the same LiberalNationals coalition that at a commonwealth level led, with support from Labor, the gutting of the renewable energy target, leading to the decline of the sector nationwide and the loss of thousands of jobs, including the downscaling of the wind turbine manufacturing and installation industry here in Victoria. It is the same LiberalNationals coalition that has sponsored spurious committee investigations into the supposed impact of wind turbines on health, while completely ignoring the deleterious longterm impacts of pollution from coal power stations on respiratory health in the Latrobe Valley.
It is the same LiberalNationals coalition that to this day falsely claims that wind turbines caused the power blackout in South Australia last year. They do so even when the extensive investigation by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) showed that the chief cause was the failure of the transmission network due to the towers collapsing as a result of cyclonic winds. The only way wind turbines were at fault was in some software settings such that they disconnected from the grid after riding out three voltage surges. They were corrected within days to ride out a greater number of surges, and such disconnections by design will not occur again in future.
With this set of amendments the LiberalNationals coalition are trying to saddle the wind energy sector with onerous regulatory burdens which can only be designed to prevent their construction. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand — how to replace ageing fossil fuel fired power stations with solar farms, wind farms and gridscale energy storage — they are once again working to undermine the renewables sector. Imagine if coal power stations had to submit a statement to the government as to their impact on respiratory health in the Latrobe Valley and their impact on the global climate. They would have had their operating licences extinguished decades ago.
I will now turn to deal with parts of the amendments. Proposed section 47A of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 lists five requirements for a power system reliability assessment report. The first of these is for a solar farm developer to assess:
… impacts on reliability and power system security of the Victorian power system and national electricity system …
This amendment would ask wind farm developers to conduct an energy market forecast of a veracity that is rarely achieved by the organisation charged with doing exactly that — the Australian Energy Market Operator. Every year the AEMO spends many thousands of hours of its expertise in trying to predict future movements of supply and demand on the energy market, and more often than not they get it wrong.
The second requirement of the proposed power system reliability report:
specifies whether arrangements have been made for additional electricity to be dispatched into the Victorian power system when the facility will not be generating electricity so that there is sufficient electricity available to meet Victoria’s base load at those times …
This shows the ignorance of the LiberalNationals coalition on how the national electricity market functions. It is a balance of supply meeting highly variable demand. We have over 300 largescale registered generators in the national electricity market. It is a highly fluid market whereby some generators ramp up or ramp down generating capacity to meet diurnal and seasonal peaks. The demands on the grid are aggregated into 5minute dispatch intervals. It is absurd and anticompetitive to expect a new wind farm to enter this highly competitive market with its own arrangements for auxiliary generation when there is a pool of blended generation supply that can meet the demand.
The third requirement refers to recommendation 3.3 of the Finkel review in an attempt to give itself the veneer of technical adequacy and policy relevance. Recommendation 3.3 of the Finkel review states:
To complement the orderly transition policy package, by mid2018 the Australian Energy Market Commission and the Australian Energy Market Operator should develop and implement a generator reliability obligation.
It is important to note at this point in time that noone knows what a generator reliability obligation will comprise. It could require the purchase of reliability certificates generated by dispatchable power plants such as solar thermal plants or hydropower plants just like renewable energy certificates are created by wind farms and solar farms now. There could be a requirement to coinvest in gridscale energy storage. There have been no directions from the relevant authorities as to what shape this will take. What we do know is who will design and implement the generator reliability obligation, and that is the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) and AEMO. These are regulatory institutions that are charged with the management and operation of the whole national electricity market, so that is as it should be.
To have a state Minister for Planning bestowed with powers that are duplicative of this regulatory role is a clear attempt at strangling wind farms in red tape. To have these powers bestowed on a state planning minister a whole year prior to AEMO and AEMC having even figured out what the generator reliability obligation will comprise would be ridiculous if it were not so detrimental to investor confidence and jobs in this state.
The fourth requirement referenced recommendation 5.1 of the Finkel review. This recommendation states:
By mid2018, the Australian Energy Market Operator, supported by transmission network service providers and relevant stakeholders, should develop an integrated grid plan to facilitate the efficient development and connection of renewable energy zones across the national electricity market.
The nominated agencies here are again AEMO and the transmission companies, which are more formally referred to as network distribution service providers (NDSPs). The wind farm owners and operators themselves are not listed. This is a strategic network planning and operation issue that lies properly in the domain of AEMO and the NDSPs, not individual generators. Again Mr Davis is bending the truth when it comes to the wording and intent of the Finkel review.
The fifth requirement, like the third requirement, is redundant because it duplicates regulatory processes that are properly applied by other bodies. Clearly the drafters of this amendment had run out of ideas and needed some fillers, and that is certainly not a commentary on parliamentary counsel but perhaps more on the instruction they needed to comply with. Considering Mr Davis’s latterday passion for energy policy, I would like to direct him to recommendation 3.2 of the Finkel review, which states:
Both a clean energy target and an emissions intensity scheme are credible emissions reduction mechanisms because they minimise costs for consumers, are flexible and adaptable, and satisfy security and reliability criteria. Both mechanisms are shown to deliver better price outcomes than business as usual.
Maybe Mr Davis’s time would be spent better pushing for an emissions intensity scheme or a clean energy target amongst the ranks of his LiberalNational coalition colleagues, what with their burgeoning ranks of climate deniers, instead of this quixotic attempt at jousting with windmills.
The Greens will be opposing these amendments, but in relation to the broader issue of this bill and the scope it covers we will be supporting it. We will certainly be continuing to push for meaningful and comprehensive reform of the regulation of the building and development sectors because of the enormous detrimental impact they have on people who plough through their life savings sometimes to try to achieve the house of their dreams but for whom the dream crumbles because of a lack of enforcement and compliance and the privatisation of the building surveyor industry.