Peninsula Housing Crisis Continues

Legislative Assembly 7 June 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:53): Just under a month ago I raised the housing crisis that we have on the Mornington Peninsula.

At the time I made the point that we have the sixth-largest number of rough sleepers in the state and we have exceedingly low vacancy rates in terms of rental properties, and I highlighted not only the lack of action but the lack of even a commentary from the government on the issue.

I made the point that we need to utilise our housing assets far more effectively than we do now.

So I was interested to read an article in the Mornington News on 31 May.

They were talking about recently released data from CoreLogic on rental increases by postcode. Seven of the top eight postcodes—so, seven of the eight highest rental increases—were on the Mornington Peninsula, seven of eight.

We have got families being forced to sleep in cars, sleeping in tents on the foreshore—when it is 6, 7, 8 degrees in the morning they are in a tent on the foreshore. The council has had to open up camping areas that would normally be closed.

Also in the same article there was some commentary around the number of government properties that are empty, that are not available for these people. And just to cap it off, the number of new dwellings to be constructed under the Big Build is 26.

Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula have 2544 families on the waiting list, so the Big Build is one dwelling for every 98 families.

Spending Trebled,
Debt heading towards $170 billion,
another Labor Budget

Legislative Assembly 25 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:19): It is great to have the opportunity to join this debate on the Appropriation (2022–2023) Bill 2022 and Appropriation (Parliament 2022–2023) Bill 2022. This is my 16th budget, and it most certainly will be my last.

Of course for eight of those budgets I was associated with the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), along with the minister who spoke just a minute ago for four of those years. Six of those years were either as chair of the committee or as deputy chair of the committee. And frankly I think that is probably enough exposure to the budget and the budget process for anyone. Probably Treasurers and Assistant Treasurers have more exposure, but for ordinary members of the Assembly that is more than enough.

I think it also needs to be said, though, that the landscape has changed enormously since 2006.

2007 was of course John Brumby’s final budget as Treasurer before he was moved up the ladder and became Premier later on that year. It was probably one of the last, if not the last, responsible Labor budgets that we saw.

I will come back to the numbers because clearly those numbers have changed enormously, but it is not only the numbers that have changed. Transparency in the budget process has been significantly diminished.

When Steve Bracks was Premier he had a very strong commitment to the PAEC process. He put extra money in; he felt that there was not enough money going in under the Kennett government, and he was probably right, frankly. He put extra money in, he made sure the committee was resourced and he was very, very keen to facilitate the process. Unfortunately what we see now is that while the number of hours of hearings may be the same, the schedule is very much curtailed—so early morning starts, late evening finishes. In terms of work, there is nothing wrong with starting early in the morning or finishing late at night, but when you have these sorts of hearings back to back, one after the other, you have got fresh ministers coming in, you have got tired and at the end of the time exhausted committee members, it is not a reasonable match.

You also have a situation where hearings are occurring at hours that are not convenient to the media, and that again minimises the coverage, so we have far less coverage at PAEC now than we have had in the past. I know people will say, ‘Who cares? It’s another committee hearing’. But the reality is the PAEC process is intended to take the place of consideration of the committee of the whole, or consideration in detail, as we now call it.

That is what PAEC is about. I know we do not do a lot of consideration in detail, but surely if there is one bill a year that you want to consider forensically and examine in detail, it is the appropriation bill. It is happening, but it is not happening to anywhere near the extent that it used to.

The second change that does concern me in terms of transparency or in terms of opportunity to examine these important documents is the fact that we are now conflating the debate—and I know that is not the technical term—we are now conflating the issues of the appropriation bill and the appropriation parliament bill.

Frankly, I have a problem with that for two reasons. The first is we are now forced to consider the appropriation of the Parliament in the same breath as the executive. That is not appropriate. The second point is I doubt if I have heard anyone mention the Parliament in this whole debate. You do not need to be debating the appropriation parliament bill for weeks, but it deserves to be examined separately and it deserves to be considered separately.

The practice now diminishes the role of the Parliament and effectively places it in this debate in a subsidiary position to the executive, and that, in my view, is not appropriate.

I think all members—it does not matter which party they belong to or to no party at all—need to be aware of the need to protect the position of the Parliament. And okay, if you are a member of the government, you do not need to go out and argue the case in public, but at least have a voice inside your own party and protect the position of the Parliament, because under the current arrangements it is being eroded. Democracy is multifaceted and the parliamentary process is an important part of it, but the reality is that unless we keep pressure on all facets of democracy—and the lesson of Saturday is our system is working, but we need to make sure we keep it working—unless we make sure we safeguard the democratic process, it is very easily diminished.

I want to give a recent example of how transparency can be diminished and democracy potentially threatened, and that is in the United States. A few days ago Jen Psaki, who was President Biden’s first press secretary, doing the briefings, stood down after 16 months. During the course of those 16 months she had given 224 briefings. In contrast, the however many press secretaries Donald Trump had had in total over four years given 205 briefings. So in 16 months Jen Psaki has given 224 briefings compared with 205 for the whole four years. That is about transparency and that is about access.

Now, I know they have a different system to us, clearly, but my point is in the United States they have taken action to repair the damage to the democratic process that was done under Trump. I am not suggesting that what is happening here is anywhere near as dramatic, but the point is we need to be vigilant. We need to be on guard to protect the process.

You cannot have a discussion about a budget without talking about debt, without talking about deficits, because debt is an ever-present part of every public budget, and of course deficits are a part of some budgets.

But this year, for the current financial year, the government forecast a deficit of $11.6 billion. The deficit at the end of this financial year will be $17.6 billion—just a lazy $6 billion variance. Yet the Treasurer a few weeks ago stood up and said, ‘Oh, we’ll be back in surplus in four years. We’ll deliver a modest surplus in four years’.

I think that has got a touch of the Wayne Swans about it, because it simply cannot be done.

In saying that, I want to make my position on debt very, very clear. You need to borrow money to build infrastructure, but you do not need to borrow money to fund cost blowouts that should not occur. You need to borrow money to support a budget in an emergency, and the deficits that have been run over the last couple of years I have no problem with when the money has legitimately been used for the emergency. But in many cases it has not been, and I will come back to that as well.

So I have no problem with the legitimate COVID expenditure, and I have no problem with sensible infrastructure provision, but unfortunately that is not the total story in this budget.

Coming back to the comparison with 2007, in 2007, when I came into the Parliament, the budget surplus was $324 million. We had net debt of $3 billion. The budget deficit for 2022 is expected to be $7.9 billion. Given the performance last year, who knows what it will actually be—who knows?

Net debt will be almost $119 billion; by the end of the forwards, $168 billion—21 per cent of gross state product at the end of the next financial year and 26.5 per cent of gross state product at the end of the forwards.

Now, to put that growth in perspective, the CPI index in December 2006 was 86.7; it had risen to 124.2 at the end of March this year. That is a 43 per cent increase in the CPI over that period. The appropriation bill, when you look at the amounts to be issued from the Consolidated Fund, totals $85.1 billion.

The corresponding figure in 2006 was $26.8 billion, in round terms. So in other words, in those 16 years notional spending has trebled.

Now, I know the CPI has gone up by, as I said, 43 per cent. The population has obviously grown significantly over that time as well. It has gone from 5.1 million to 6.6 million, but the government was spending back then $5188 per capita. If you index that by the 43 per cent, that comes to $7400 per capita in round terms.

But the actual spend per capita in this budget is $12 800, so over that 16 years real spending has grown by 73 per cent, and that is not sustainable. The government knows it is not sustainable. It cannot be sustainable.

Okay, interest rates are at historic lows, and we can probably support the sort of debt that that generates as long as interest rates do not move. But we know they are going to, so I think there are some concerns there.

I want to delve a little further into the detail, and that is to briefly talk about the Treasurer’s advances. Page 15 of the appropriation bill provides a $14 billion allocation as an advance to the Treasurer—$14 billion—and actually it is down a little bit. Last budget it was $16 billion. So what we are proposing in this budget is to allow the Treasurer basically to spend $14 billion on whatever he deems necessary. We are handing over $14 billion.

Now, during an emergency that is a reasonable thing to do. It is not desirable, but it is a reasonable thing to do. But we are coming out of that emergency now, and that approach should not be business as usual. We should not be allowing that sort of funding to be allocated and then simply signed off by the Parliament in a couple of years time.

Again, I go back to the figures from when I first entered this place. The amount provided for the Treasurer’s advance in 2006 was $482 million.

In other words, the amount provided in this budget compared with 16 years ago is 29 times higher. As I said, yes, it is reported back; yes, it appears in the Annual Financial Report; yes, we get to sign off on it two years down the track—but there is no oversight from Parliament. There is no veto. We only get to approve it when the money is spent.

And just in case there is a claim that it has all been spent on COVID, when you have a look at the figures in the budget papers nearly $8 billion was spent by way of Treasurer’s advance in 2020–21, which are the numbers that are reported, and $3.4 billion of that was COVID but $4.16 of that was not COVID, just simply extra spending not of an emergency nature.

Just very briefly in terms of the Mornington electorate, normally I stand up and say, ‘We got nothing, so thanks for nothing’. In this case I am delighted to say, after a 10-year campaign, Mornington Special Developmental School was funded for a rebuild. It has been a 10-year campaign. It is going to be a great development for the kids at the school. It is going to be a great development for the teachers, who do a fantastic job. It is very, very welcome news.

Unfortunately there is a long list of infrastructure works that have not been funded, but there is one funded, and for that I am very, very excited.

Federal Election 2022

Legislative Assembly 24 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:52): On Saturday, 21 May, Australians went to the polls.

The outcome of that contest was a change of government—a peaceful change in what have been somewhat turbulent times. I think the outcome, and the manner in which it was conducted should remind us all just how strong our democracy is and how lucky we are to have it.

Personally, it was a disappointing result, and of course it was also a disappointing political result from my perspective. It remains to be seen whether those that wear the teal can now switch from campaigning to actually delivering for their communities.

I suspect they will have a choice between sticking to their principles and actually delivering, so we will have to see how that works out.

In the Mornington electorate we have a new member for Flinders, Zoe McKenzie, who actually achieved a slight swing towards the Liberal Party.

Unfortunately in Dunkley the Liberal candidate, Sharn Coombes, was not successful, but Sharn was a great candidate. You could not have wanted anyone to work harder. Indeed I think she was probably the hardest working candidate I have seen in my 40 years in this game.

The outcome in no way reflected the effort. I do have enormous respect for Sharn’s dedication, the skills she brought to the contest and the manner in which the campaign was conducted.

I do extend my congratulations to Peta Murphy, and I look forward to working with Peta and with Zoe McKenzie in the service of the people of the Mornington Peninsula.

Public Housing – Well located Slums are still Slums

Legislative Assembly 12 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (10:07): We have a housing crisis on the Mornington Peninsula.

We have the sixth-largest number of rough sleepers in the state. We have low—in fact extremely low—vacancy rates in terms of rental properties. We have a genuine crisis.

I thought it might have been instructive to see what the government, particularly the member for Nepean, has been saying about housing, so I searched Hansard.

The member for Nepean has mentioned housing on the Mornington Peninsula once, on 9 September 2021. He asked the Minister for Housing to provide an update to his community about:

… how the Victorian government’s announcement on funding to provide housing support and targeted initiatives to address homelessness in—

the budget—

… will help to reduce homelessness on the Mornington Peninsula.

What was the response? None—absolutely none.

A government member asked in an adjournment for a response from the Minister for Housing and he has had nothing at all. I guess it is hard to talk about what you are doing when you are not actually doing anything.

My own electorate has a number of locations where public housing is literally falling apart—literally collapsing. It is prime real estate, but if you are not going to invest in public housing on the Mornington Peninsula, how about you utilise the assets better? Surely we can use them more effectively.

The sites are great, the buildings are not. Well-located slums are still slums.

There is a real opportunity here to take action and make improvements that will make a real difference to people’s lives. I challenge the minister, who it is great to see at the table, to really get on and do something.

Call in Second Retirement Village Application Now!

Legislative Assembly 3 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (19:20): (6344) My adjournment matter this evening is directed to the Minister for Planning, and the action I am seeking from the Minister for Planning is that he call in planning application P21/1949 to the Mornington Peninsula shire planning scheme—it applies to a property at 60 Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza—and reject it.

Speaker, I think with you in the chair I have raised matters relating to this property on many occasions in this house over the last three years, perhaps a little bit longer, most recently with regard to planning scheme amendment C270 for a rezoning.

This is the second planning application on this site. The first one was rejected, quite rightly. The applicant has done what—and I do not blame them for doing it—so many applicants do: they put in the ambit claim, put in the big one, then they come back with a smaller one and say, ‘Well, how does this fit?’.

The first application was rejected, and the second one should absolutely be rejected as well. This is a site outside the urban growth boundary. It is a site in the area that amendment C270 seeks to rezone to green wedge. It is a landmark site right on the southern side of Mount Eliza.

What is proposed here is a development with a footprint of nearly 15 000 square metres. It is not a modest, sympathetic extension to an existing facility, it is a massive development—yes smaller than the first one, but it is an absolutely massive development with numerous three- and four-storey buildings.

As I mentioned, it is outside the urban growth boundary. To approve this application would be totally contrary to planning policies that go back to the 1970s in this area.

There is a Mornington Peninsula planning statement, or localised planning statement, that expressly talks about providing a clear separation of the peninsula from metropolitan Melbourne, protecting the character and functions of the towns and villages, protecting areas of special character and having developments sympathetic with, respecting and enhancing the natural environment.

In this case this is a linear development between towns. It is effectively an expansion of the urban area of Mount Eliza.

To those of you who are familiar with the Planning and Environment Act 1987, this would be contrary to the intent of the Planning and Environment Act, where every expansion of the urban growth boundary needs to be agreed to by a motion by this house and by the other place. So this application is totally contrary to every agreed policy.

I request the minister: call it in and knock it on the head.

“CALL IN RETIREMENT VILLAGE APPLICATION”
MORRIS TELLS PLANNING MINISTER

Mornington MP, David Morris, has demanded the Minister for Planning “call in” and reject the application for planning approval for a retirement village in Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza.

The first application lodged for the land was rejected by VCAT on appeal, after an initial refusal by the Shire Council. This time the applicant has taken their case straight to VCAT, by-passing council consideration.

Speaking in Parliament this week Mr Morris said:

This is the second planning application on this site. The first one was rejected, quite rightly…the second one should absolutely be rejected as well.

This is a site outside the urban growth boundary. It is a site in the area that amendment C270 seeks to rezone to green wedge. It is a landmark site right on the southern side of Mount Eliza.

What is proposed here is a development with a footprint of nearly 15 000 square metres. It is not a modest, sympathetic extension to an existing facility, it is a massive development—yes smaller than the first one, but it is an absolutely massive development with numerous three- and four-storey buildings…

To approve this application would be totally contrary to planning policies that go back to the 1970s in this area…this is a linear development between towns. It is effectively an expansion of the urban area of Mount Eliza…every expansion of the urban growth boundary needs to be agreed to by a motion by this house and by the other place…call it in and knock it on the head.

Further information: David Morris on 5975 4799

Mornington’s share of the State Budget – Not a whole lot!

In a welcome departure from its usual habit of ignoring the Mornington Electorate in the State Budget the Victorian Government has finally funded two desperately needed local projects.

After more than ten years of campaigning the Government has committed to re-build Mornington Special Development School, committing “at least $6.769 million” in today’s state budget. But students, parents and teachers shouldn’t be expecting immediate action as only a fraction of the funds allocated to the program will be spent in the next financial year. The budget papers show an “estimated completion date” of December 2025.

Despite the likely delay I am delighted the Government has finally seen sense. For too long this school has had to make do with sub-standard temporary accommodation, and no guarantee that the school would even remain on the current site. This announcement provides the certainty the school needs to confidently plan for the future.

The budget also provides funding for “critical works” on Mornington’s Fisherman’s Jetty which has been “temporarily closed” since 2020. The extent of the funding was not disclosed in the budget papers, so whether there will be enough money to actually re-open the jetty, or even when the works will be undertaken, remains uncertain. In spite of these misgivings I am pleased the Government has finally responded to my repeated calls for action.

These small wins are long overdue, but too many desperately needed projects were overlooked in this budget including:

  • Action to fix congestion on Bungower Road and Mornington-Tyabb Road
  • Desperately needed safety works at the intersections of Forest Drive and Uralla Road with Nepean Highway in Mount Martha
  • Long overdue and much needed investment in Mornington Park Primary School and Mount Eliza Secondary College
  • No funding to back the Shire’s commitment to the Peninsula Trail between Moorooduc and Mornington.

This year’s state budget was pretty much what we’ve come to expect in the Mornington Electorate – not a whole lot!

Brain Injury Matters

Legislative Assembly 6 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:53): I rise this morning to seek additional support for the Brain Injury Matters organisation as part of the forthcoming Victorian budget. The Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers would, I am sure, be well aware of the organisation. It is a not-for-profit run by people living with an acquired brain injury. BIM run a number of programs, including the highly valued peer support groups. A constituent has written recently:

I am a member of a weekly BIM Peer Support Group meeting in Frankston and have benefited a great deal from being part of the group. I have made friends, developed skills, accessed the community and had a lot of fun. I am afraid of increasing isolation and lack of confidence if BIM cannot find funding to continue my Peer Support Group. BIM’s research has found that addressing social isolation continues to be a key need for Victorian adults living with brain injury.

BIM would welcome an increase in the recurrent funding amount. This would allow the continuation of the BIM Peer Support Group I attend. Funding for the project team which runs the PSGs ends on June 30, 2022.

The Department of Health provides some modest funding which assists with staffing and accommodation costs, but that is not sufficient to ensure the ongoing operation of the peer support groups.

I think we are all only too aware of the mental health cost of the pandemic across the community, and that impact certainly extends to people with an acquired brain injury, so I do urge the minister to provide additional funding for this worthy organisation in the upcoming budget.

Approve C270 and Protect the Green Wedge Now!

Legislative Assembly 6 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (19:09): (6321) I raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Planning, and the action I am seeking from the minister is that he expedite the approval of amendment C270 to the Mornington Peninsula planning scheme.

Amendment C270—there is a lot of history here—has recently been exhibited, and exhibition closes on Friday.

Normally there would be a very long process from then until the amendment is approved, but I stood up in this house more than two years ago, in February 2020, and asked the minister to expedite the exhibition of the scheme. Two years on, it finally got on exhibition in February of this year. 

Since then I have raised the issue on at least three occasions. The reason I have done that is that this is critical for the future protection of the green wedge on the Mornington Peninsula.

The amendment itself deals with a number of sites that are outside the urban growth boundary but are not currently protected by green wedge provisions.

One is particularly sensitive and is one I have mentioned on many occasions in this place, and that is an application for a retirement village outside the urban growth boundary in Mount Eliza. The first application was knocked backed by VCAT. It is now the subject of a Supreme Court appeal. The second application is currently on exhibition and closes on Friday.

Just to give the house a sense of the scale of this development outside the urban growth boundary, land that is supposed to be protected, its total footprint is 14 963 square metres. There is the addition of three wings to the existing historic mansion, two four-storey and one three-storey; three freestanding four-storey buildings; two freestanding three-storey buildings; 246 car spaces; and a place of worship. So it is a very, very significant development in a totally inappropriate place.

Further down the road we have another application that is not affected by this planning scheme amendment but which seeks to turn an existing nursing home into a much, much larger retirement village with a significant footprint.

Again and again we are seeing these sorts of applications. In part it is a function of the value of the land—I understand that—but either we are serious as a Parliament and as a state about protecting this area or we are not.

I do urge the minister, as a first step in beefing up the protections for the green wedge, to get on with C270 and truncate the process period to the extent that he can, and let us get it approved.

Labor’s Peninsula Public Transport Hoax

Legislative Assembly 22 February 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:32): Once again the Andrews government has been caught misleading the peninsula community.

Yesterday a media release trumpeted ‘Improving connections on the Mornington Peninsula’. In fact it is not about improving connections on the Mornington Peninsula or the whole peninsula; it is actually about improving connections in the marginal Labor seat of Nepean and it is about punishing the Liberal seat of Mornington.

The government claims Mount Martha will now have better public transport coverage. No! The Nepean electorate will benefit because of a slight extension to a service that previously terminated in Mount Martha.

The release also claims that travel times will be reduced on the 887 route. If that is true, it is only because the route no longer serves the Mornington electorate at all. Up until yesterday the 887 stopped at Mount Martha, Mornington and Mount Eliza.

Now there is no service—not a reduced service, no service at all.

Now there are 27 stops on the 887 route in the Nepean electorate—previously there were three: at Rosebud, Dromana and Safety Beach—a ninefold increase in stops serving the Nepean electorate, while the Mornington electorate has been wiped out completely.

Local students seeking to access Monash at Frankston have been relegated to the ordinary, totally inadequate public transport system.

Quotes in the release acknowledge the population growth on the Mornington Peninsula, but the growth is peninsula wide and particularly in the seat of Mornington. It is about time the government stopped playing politics with public transport and delivered the services my community deserves.