Greater Cities Commission Bill 2022

29th March 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:21): I am very pleased to speak in debate on the Greater Cities Commission Bill 2022. I just had a chat to the member for Wollongong and, before him, with the Minister for Cities, whom I acknowledge for bringing the bill to the House. I was reflecting with the member for Wollongong on just how difficult planning in our State has been over the years. There have been some courageous attempts to tackle fundamental issues. I go back a little bit further than the member for Wollongong, but I start with one person who was a committed planning Minister in this House—a good Labor member, who has roots in Lake Macquarie at Wangi Wangi—and that is Craig Knowles. I acknowledge the work he did to try to deliver many of the fundamental planning reforms that were needed in New South Wales.

I move on to acknowledge a very interesting member and former planning Minister, Frank Sartor. I found Frank Sartor to be extremely diligent and genuine in his attempts to reform planning, as was a former planning Minister of the current Coalition Government, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, who has taken on quite a few different roles in his long career. I am sure all of them had some success, but certainly not the success that I know they set out to achieve. It is a wickedly difficult area in which to operate and bring together the needs of not just the current population but also of New South Wales residents and communities well into the future. You often only get one reasonable shot at delivering planning for our cities, which is what we are trying to do here.

I have been known to be somewhat painfully parochial about Lake Macquarie, particularly in my time in local government and as mayor of the City of Lake Macquarie, which had a large population at the time. I think we were the seventh or eighth largest in Australia. I think Newcastle ran in at about twentieth. I am sorry; I did mention that I was parochial. Newcastle has always been the sixth largest because it co-opts our population to do it. Setting that aside, while I was very parochial and would fight for Lake Macquarie, no one community can prosper in isolation from its neighbours. Lake Macquarie always benefited from having a positive relationship with a city such as Newcastle and with our neighbours in Cessnock and Maitland and Port Stephens and all of the other local government areas that ran up through the Hunter. We formed the Hunter Joint Organisation, the model of regional organisation in councils and one that has been very highly regarded.

That is on the smaller scale of that region, but the same thing applies when we look at the Greater Sydney metropolitan area and how it benefits and needs to benefit from those regional areas, such as western Sydney, north-western Sydney and the Illawarra. In this case, we are talking about the Central Coast and the lower Hunter or that area around Lake Macquarie and Newcastle, Port Stephens, Maitland and Cessnock. It is important that we draw on the benefits each region is naturally gifted with. All areas in New South Wales have some inherent fabulous reasons why people choose to live there. But we must make sure that we have intergenerational equity and that we are planning for those communities of the future. I hear many issues being raised about the lack of funds and the lack of focus on the provision of basic infrastructure that is needed, whether it is hard infrastructure or social infrastructure, in places such as western Sydney. I have great sympathy for members who represent communities who are seeing that. We need to do better in all of those areas. If those areas do better, they will lift the rest of the State.

I was heartened by some discussions I had with Greater Sydney Commissioner Geoff Roberts and CEO Elizabeth Mildwater when I sat down and discussed the issues and how this could work. One of the great concerns I have is that trying to bring councils in a particular area together under a commission will not really work unless each of those councils is fully on board, and they will not be fully on board unless each of them is equal at the table. So I was very pleased to have that discussion with Commissioner Roberts about how that would be done. Part of that was that it will be very important to have each commissioner reside in each particular area, which I appreciate. The member for Wollongong talked about that in his contribution. I am not sure of how that would work if we had somebody who was outside the area but had really good knowledge of it and came in and had amazing qualifications, but I understand the case and talked to Commissioner Roberts about it. We need someone who understands, in our case, the values and opportunities of the Hunter, what we really love about it and also what we need.

If that is done, we will have a framework that can be built on well into the future. Whether with this Government or a subsequent government, of whichever stripe it might be, it is not a bad thing to change the paradigm from what it has been in the past, because we really have not changed things too much. We always come back to some of these major issues. We need to provide for things such as housing, work opportunities, education, recreation, culture and sport. We need connectivity, including public transport and good roads. We need health services. We need parks. We need to make the places where we live into places where we want to live. Often that is about green space. I would like to see a hierarchy of parks. Once again I reflect on what I have seen in my travels around the world. [Extension of time]

We need to address those issues to make these areas livable. If they are recognised and invested in by the Government to provide for the particular benefits they bring to the State, and if we make best use of those, all of our areas will benefit. I acknowledge the City of Newcastle council, which has reached out to me and to the Minister. The council has taken a very strong interest in this. Why would it not? It is a significant player, not only in the Hunter area but also in New South Wales. Newcastle has been undergoing a major renewal. Things are going extremely well there. I give credit to people who have been involved, but let us not pretend that this has all happened because of only the good wishes of local investors and through a big local effort. There has been a huge effort by two governments, the Commonwealth and the State, to do this. I do not know that we can afford to do that in every area. We need to have good planning and good policy to drive local investment so that we get organic growth, which will be much better into the future.

I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Balmain. I told him that he made a great and very impassioned speech. He was absolutely correct in so many things he said. The member for Gosford is in the Chamber. She was talking about affordable housing. I am also very concerned about social housing, as every member of this House is. We are all frustrated by the problems around delivery and maintenance of enough affordable housing out there, whatever "affordable housing" means. But social housing is a real problem. The member for Balmain made some very strong points, including that the largest slum lord in New South Wales is NSW Land and Housing Corporation. It really is. It is a disgrace.

We need to provide affordable housing for people who can afford to buy into or rent in the private property market, but we also need good social housing for those people who cannot. We are not talking only about four walls and a roof over somebody's head to keep them dry. We are talking about a quality and standard of housing that makes them feel they are valued members of our community, that they are respected, that they are being provided the dignity they deserve. We are a rich country and a rich State. We need to do better in that space. I thank the member for Balmain for raising that so strongly. These are things we need to do. I want to live in a community that has all of those nice things, but not only for people who are employed and can afford to buy a house and maybe an investment property or two. I want my community to be fair and just to those people who can never, ever dream that they can get there themselves, that they can buy their own houses or afford to rent so that they do not have to fear that the rent will go up every six or 12 months and they will be struggling again to live there. That is not the type of society that I think we want to live in. We have to address those issues as well as all those other issues, such as providing for education, recreation and health, but also good housing and work opportunities. I know it is hard. I acknowledge Minister Stokes, because in my conversations with Rob Stokes over the years I believe that he is very genuine in his intentions to reform this sector. I believe if we all support the bill—and I note that the Opposition is—we are in a better place than we were yesterday. It will not be over. I do not know who will be in government next year; I do not know who the Minister will be. But if we have an opportunity to change the paradigm, we should seize it. I commend the bill to the House.

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