Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Batman Electorate: Preston Market
Over a year ago, at a public meeting in Preston attended by several hundred locals, including Robin Scott, the MP for Preston, and me, a community group was formed, named Save Our Preston Market. This community has since worked assiduously to bring attention and support to a simple but very important goal—to preserve the much-loved character of our market and prevent it from becoming yet another bland, featureless suburban shopping mall. The campaign to save the character of Preston Market is one that I have proudly spoken about in this place and that I proudly support, as someone who loves to spend time there with my wife and son.
At the outset of the Save Our Preston Market campaign, I believed that success would be reasonably straightforward. The group articulated a simple and widely supported set of goals. It was supported by me, the local state MP and the relevant planning authority, the Greens party dominated council, which was also eager to offer its support—or so it seemed. Darebin council was in a powerful position to extract key concessions in exchange for planning approvals and investment certainty. Those concessions concerned undertakings about meaningful community consultation, reasonable height limits on any development, the provision of car parking, providing a masterplan so that the community would understand the future vision for the market and preserving the character and authenticity of the market spaces themselves.
But the Greens on Darebin council proved unwilling to use this moment of enormous leverage to the benefit of our community. Instead, the Greens party were obsessed with only one objective: how to weaponise the Save Our Preston Market cause for their own partisan purposes. In pursuing that objective, the fate of the market was apparently expendable. Rather than deploy their powers as the planning authority, the Darebin council simply refused all relevant planning applications. This had the effect of sending the developers off to appeal the decision at VCAT, taking Darebin council out of the position of actually having to negotiate or play a leadership role. The Greens-dominated Darebin council then devoted its energies to calling upon the Victorian government to call the project in, to do what they refused to do and save Preston Market. Instead, the Greens party councillors, having liberated themselves from any responsibility for the future of the market, returned to their political comfort zone—sloganeering, attending rallies and attacking Labor.
The sheer cynicism and hypocrisy of the Greens in this matter became manifest on 22 June when they signed an agreement with the developers. The Greens rely on the fact that the agreement is protected by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act of 1988 to evade scrutiny and avoid transparency. But, today, I seek leave to tender a copy of that agreement.
I thank the House. This is a document of an agreement made between the developers and the Greens-dominated council, and it's a document that can explain the chasm that exists between the Greens' words and the Greens' deeds. This agreement is an instrument of surrender and a betrayal of the Save Our Preston Market cause. It might have been better rendered on a white flag. The Greens party capitulated and colluded at every point. They have capitulated on parking, they have capitulated on the request to require a master plan and, most appallingly, they have capitulated on building heights. We now find ourselves in the absurd situation where the Preston Market redevelopment will be battled out at VCAT with the council and the developers on the same side. The truth is that the Greens have again and again shown themselves to be more interested in talking about values than acting on them. They are more interested in virulent anti-Labor-Party politics than progress. This Greens deal is a grave betrayal of our community.
Fortunately for the market, Victorian Labor did act. In July, the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, and the MP for Preston, Robin Scott, intervened to impose strict height controls to prevent overdevelopment of market buildings. In announcing a forthcoming review of planning controls in a proposed masterplan, Richard Wynne said he would safeguard the iconic market from inappropriate development. While the Greens councillors wash their hands of responsibility, Labor has acted in the interests of the community. The Greens should now reflect on how they have bungled this moment, on how they have let our community down, all in the pursuit of politics and seeking to transform a broad based community campaign supported by all of us into their own partisan plaything. Shame!