It’s been said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince people he didn’t exist. Regardless of whether you believe the devil exists, in principle it’s a pretty neat trick. Can’t fight an enemy you don’t recognise.
Right now what is often called “the world’s most livable city” is the focal point of a hotly contested development boom. Residential skyscrapers are cluttering the CBD skyline, medium-density apartment blocks are springing up like weeds in the suburbs, and the outer suburbs are facing rezoning to cluster townhouses around commercial centers that once boasted family homes on generous blocks.
In the game being played for the future of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, the state and local governments hold a key advantage that most of their opponents do not recognise and, therefore, cannot fight.
Readers of Real News Australia and other independent media would most likely be understand what’s going on in this city: Agenda 21. But mentioning it in casual conversation, at public meetings or in the mainstream media might elicit any number of responses. It might be a blank stare of unfamiliarity, dismissal as a conspiracy theorist, abject denial of its existence, or the politician’s favourite: changing the subject without addressing the question. Graham Williamson of the Galileo Movement has diligently complied a series of letters that starkly highlight the latter two response types.
Victoria’s Planning Minister Matthew Guy is keen to see the rapid growth of high-density residential developments regardless of objections from the people directly affected by them. The main difference between Guy and his Labor predecessor Justin Madden is that Guy is more competent at greenlighting developers’ plans. This coincidentally reflects Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s comfort in accepting–and soliciting–“donations” from developers to fund re-election. The cynic is me doesn’t equate donating thousands of dollars to politicians to showering orphanages with teddy bears; these developers want favourable treatment for their investments, and it appears Doyle’s definition of conflict of interest is flexible.
Put that happy meal on my platinum card
Fine dining in Melbourne doesn’t come cheap, but shelling out $10,000 for a case of heartburn is a bit much even for this expensive town. Unless you get some real bang for your buck. Now Fairfax Media has some severe shortcomings in much of its reporting, especially when it comes to Agenda 21, but they have been relentless in their pursuit of the current Liberal/National government and the minister they love to hate, Matthew Guy. On March 5 this year, Fairfax reporters Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie had this to say:
Planning Minister Matthew Guy helped to approve applications made by Melbourne property developers who had attended secret dinners with him and the then chief of the Baillieu government’s urban renewal authority after paying a Liberal fund-raising arm $10,000 each.
A Fairfax Media investigation has found that some developers who attended the dinners had needed Mr Guy’s approval for various applications, including a city tower height increase, land rezoning and extra car parking spaces.
The invitation-only dinners, two attended by Mr Guy and one by then Places Victoria chairman Peter Clarke, represent a conflict of interest because both men had the potential to influence the planning processes of the developers’ projects. One of Mr Guy’s staff also attended. Mr Guy appeared at the mid-2011 dinner despite Premier Ted Baillieu’s then ban on ministers attending fund-raising events…The $10,000 is below the $11,500 threshold at which the identity of donors to political parties has to be disclosed. [more here]
Wisely, Baker and McKenzie were quick to note that, “Fairfax Media is not suggesting Mr Guy or Mr Clarke were influenced by the donations, but the revelations of developer dinners raise questions about the transparency of the state’s planning process.”
Questions indeed. The events noted above suggest serious conflicts of interest in the planning and approval process in this city, and indicates that our system of one vote, one value is as healthy as the dodo.
Part II of The “A” Word will explore how the agenda that dare not speak its name is changing the landscape and livability of Melbourne, while Part III will look at what’s in store should the state government’s plan for the next 35 years or so proceed.