Heritage Bill 2016

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — The Greens political party always outdo themselves. It is always about slogans but never about facts, and slogans are very easy to put out there. What we have the responsibility for on this side of the house that you will never have the responsibility for is actually bringing legislation to this house that deals with complex issues and deals with them in a very responsive, timely and accountable way. And this is exactly what this bill does. The Heritage Bill 2016 has been an election commitment of ours because we recognised, in speaking to people in the heritage sector and in the history sector, that it was long overdue for a review, and we committed at the election to do just that.

One of the things I would like to commend the Minister for Planning, his offices and his staff in the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on, seeing as he is in the house — because I do know people in the history sector and I do know people in the planning environment — is the fact that they have consulted very widely on this issue. It has not been the so-called usual suspects, and I do wonder if many of those Greens political party people actually turn up to the consultations and have their say. That would have been a constructive way of channelling their criticisms or insights, but I very much doubt it. It is very easy to get up here and moan and groan afterwards. I would like to say that people in the planning sector and in the history and heritage areas are very pleased that the consultation was undertaken and that their feedback was duly recognised as being expert and based on experience. This bill does reflect, in a very workable way, their input.

I have been reminded here just recently how important heritage is. I was actually in my electorate of Narre Warren South on Sunday attending the 125th anniversary of the Mechanics Institute Hall. Narre Warren South has been very much a greenfield site. The preservation of trees, homesteads and other buildings that have been there for some period of time has not been a big priority, because the bulldozers have moved into this planning site and have really gone about building houses very quickly. The Mechanics Institute Hall there has survived the test of time, and people who have gone through it over the 125 years have very much regarded it as a place worthy of preserving, and certainly a place that the community, from day one 125 years ago to this day, still use. I think that is a great story not only about the value of heritage in Victoria — that it is worth preserving because it is our history, but also worth preserving because these buildings tell a story about our past, and are developing stories about our present as well.

One of the really wonderful photographs of the mechanics hall in Narre Warren is of the turning on of electricity in Narre Warren South. The lights are all lit in the hallway, women are dressed up to the nines, the men look very handsome as well and they are celebrating the occasion. On Sunday, when we were there to celebrate the 125th anniversary, it looked very similar. There was a big crowd there, some of the participants had put on old-fashioned clothing to make sure that the event very much looked like the mechanics hall from past times, and we all made sure that of course we were well attired as well. We actually took a photograph, and you look at that photograph and you think, ‘Time has passed over 125 years, but how fantastic it is that this heritage building is still there, is still being used and is still being recognised as a really valuable piece of community infrastructure’.

I would like to make a comment about Victorians across the board, not just in Narre Warren South. I would like to commend the work of the committee of management at the mechanics hall before I get on to talking about Victorians in general, especially Judy and Russell Owen, who do an amazing job there of making sure that the hall is not only protected but also well looked after.

I note that Victorians really do value their heritage. This bill is not just about buildings; I and many people in this chamber are fervent advocates for the preservation of Melbourne’s green wedges. I do acknowledge the pivotal role that Dick Hamer, a former Premier from the other side of the house, played in making sure that those green wedges were established. To this day they are keenly preserved, especially by people who live in those areas.

Not only did hundreds of people attend the workshops that the minister’s office organised but there were over 125 detailed submissions. Recent Heritage Council of Victoria data around tourism indicates that tourists visiting Victorian places spent $2.4 billion and supported more than 180 000 jobs. Towns like Maldon and Castlemaine are great places to visit and great places to take your children, but it is only with the commitment of government that these places can be preserved. Yes, lots of community members get around them, as well as local organisations like Rotary clubs, historical societies and family history groups, but the government has a pivotal role here in making sure that our heritage buildings and our heritage landscapes are conserved.

So I am very pleased that the Minister for Planning, who is at the table, did announce in August this year over $30 million over four years for the Living Heritage Grants program — the Greens political party might like to take note of this — to support the repair and restoration of at-risk heritage places and objects included on the register. That is a very positive step forward. I know from my own neck of the woods in Narre Warren South that people are actively looking at ways that they can apply for grants and get on with looking after the local heritage sites and landscapes.

I do want to say that this bill is very important in terms of the penalties, and it is worth emphasising that with this bill penalties will double. So we are taking a big stick to people who may be doing something that is not appropriate, unauthorised and quite obviously unacceptable to Victorians. As we have heard so many times here whilst we have been discussing this bill, we do live in the world’s most livable city — we have won that award for six years — and it is because of the sophistication, the charm and the heritage qualities of Melbourne, plus a lot of other good things that happen in Melbourne as well.

You see tourists out the front of this building taking photographs of it. You see them taking photographs of the Windsor Hotel and the Old Treasury Building; they are really significant sites. We need to protect them. I am very pleased that the minister has shown a lot of gumption in doubling the penalties. They will increase to $746 208 for an individual and $1.49 million for a body corporate. These maximum penalty amounts are consistent with those in other jurisdictions, so we are lining up. It really will provide a firm signal that unauthorised works on heritage places are really unacceptable.

I have been in situations where developers have gone in and taken out trees or taken down buildings. They have walked out of court and they have said, ‘It was the best $20 000 I ever spent getting that penalty notice, but I got those trees down and I am going now to build a building’ — one that the community actually did not want there. They wanted their trees preserved or that building preserved. It happened a couple of times when I was involved in local government, and I have got to tell you it is gut-wrenching for those people who love those trees or love that landscape or love that building to see people so recklessly and without consideration for the rest of the community go in and bulldoze or destroy the environment and the buildings. So it is with great pleasure that I really do commend this bill to the house. Again, I congratulate the minister and his department for bringing it forward. I really look forward to seeing it implemented.