Proof there’s something rotten in our planning processes | The Age

Mary Drost and Sonya Rutherford

August 29, 2010

    Delahunty’s scorn of resident groups is just grist to the mill.

    MARY Delahunty’s memoirs, according to Melissa Fyfe in The Sunday Age last week, include confirmation of what resident groups have long suspected – that developers have had the ear of government after substantial donations to the Labor Party. They make these donations on the assumption that they will get development projects green-lit in return for a share of the profit they are enabled to make.

    It doesn’t look pretty. But it’s great to finally hear something from the horse’s mouth.

    Resident groups are incensed by the insulting, virtually defamatory way Delahunty speaks about them. But also thrilled.

    She singles out Camberwell with her venom. This may be because, during her tenure of the planning portfolio, Camberwell got its fair share of media coverage. Unfortunately the coverage was celebrity-based, never really addressing the groundswell of community discontent across the city. In her memoirs, she apparently accuses Camberwell of ”wheeling out a visiting thespian”.

    Is she referring to Barry Humphries’ leading of a 3000-strong street rally (reported by the press as 1000) and the fact his satiric, knowing barbs about corruption and favouritism, which she now chooses to reveal, were too close to the bone? Or was it a swipe at the media interest Geoffrey Rush engendered? Couldn’t be. He has lived in Melbourne for 22 years.

    Perhaps the mud stirred with this book might unearth some horrible truths behind the very closed doors of government. The only time Camberwell people ever met with Delahunty was in 2004, after a large protest on the steps of Parliament. The Boroondara Residents Action Group and others including Geoffrey Rush met Delahunty to discuss not just Camberwell but ”Melbourne 2030” and the essential heritage values missing in its proposal.

    How fascinating that the former minister speaks of us – ”one such group, spawned by an uncompromising desire to preserve their comfortable suburb in aspic” – as ”venal and vain”. The Oxford Dictionary defines venal as ”people that may be bought, ready to sell influence or services or to sacrifice principles from sordid motive”. Thankfully, Delahunty has spilled the beans on Spring Street, where the word seems most applicable. Venal does not apply to any resident activist we have ever worked with.

    Delahunty is quoted as saying she ”found [herself] either admiring [our] single-mindedness” or ”wanting to lean over and choke them”. Obviously, the uprise of people from all walks of life shook the minister and Bracks government. Interestingly, when this former premier was out of office he joined in with the Williamstown residents to fight inappropriate development in his area.

    Hopefully the spray from these memoirs will redirect media attention to the scale of the problem. The planning wars only seem to generate media interest through easy-target personalities or scandal. Let’s not forget the Windsor debacle. The grassroots story is a challenge for the media – and for this government at the upcoming election.

    Behind the scenes, knowing his initial local call-to-arms was now redundant, Geoffrey Rush took a look at the big picture and became quietly involved with the formation of Planning Backlash Inc – the group now networking with 150 resident groups across the city, coast and country. Hardly a ”narrow self-interest”, Mary.

    In 2008 Rush was instrumental in co-founding the website to harness the diversity and passion of groups from Broadmeadows to the Mornington Peninsula, St Albans to Knox City.

    It was not just a selfish local concern; it was galvanising a mass movement, way beyond Camberwell, expressing alternatives to ”2030” and the anger of residents who felt disenfranchised by VCAT and direct planning ministry intervention in local planning matters.

    Resident groups would love an apology from Mary Delahunty for the way she has spoken of them in her memoirs. But, really, we thank her for verifying that what was simmering in the cauldron of Spring Street earlier this decade has authenticated and endorsed the complex argument that led us to the streets, the steps of Parliament, huge public meetings and now the limitless web.

    Hopefully the media will realise the depth and breadth of this issue as news, not momentary gossip. Blowing the whistle on things that stink is a timely and good thing.

    Mary Drost is convener and Sonya Rutherford a member of non-party-political umbrella group Planning Backlash Inc.




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