Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are political donations driving Victorian development?

As recently reported in The Melbourne Times ('State squashes planning right in bid to save jobs', 11/2/09), the Brumby government is set on 'fast-tracking' major developments by taking them out of the hands of local councils where there is a claimed 'net community benefit', including the creation of jobs in the building industry. A lot rides on how that benefit is (or isn't) defined.

One problem is that, according to a recent report by Royce Millar in The Age based on Australian Electoral Commission figures, the Victorian ALP is a major beneficiary of political donations from big developers. If it's not on for local councillors to vote on developments by developers who have given them political donations, do we really want an ALP flush with developers' cash steamrolling local democratic processes and community concerns? Here's the unedited version of my letter published in today's edition of TMT.
Greg Barber's letter about Greens contributions in Parliament offers an interesting lens through which to examine the Northcote Bowl development.

Barber writes that a private member's Bill he introduced last year aimed to prevent councillors voting on any development where they had received election donations from the developer. Now we have the Brumby State Government giving the green light to the Northcote Bowl development, sidelining a refreshingly feisty council in an undemocratic process.

Yet on 3 February, Royce Millar reported in The Age that, according to Australian Electoral Commission figures, 'corporate donations to Labor are predominantly from firms with lucrative public contracts or planning approvals, or those seeking them'. Millar identified a number of large donations from big developers bankrolling the Victorian ALP. That is to say, development decisions are being taken out of council hands by a government swimming in developers' cash.

While I am not claiming that the developers of the Northcote Bowl are among the ALP's donors, the scale of developer donations to the ALP amounts to inappropriate political influence in favour of bulldozing developments through despite valid community opposition - hardly a 'net community benefit'.
I agree with comments by Rucker Ward Councillor Trent McCarthy reported in TMT that the financial downturn is being used as a pretext to 'push through developments that deserve more scrutiny' (11/2, 'Ire as Brumby bowls residents over'). I look forward to the outcome of Councillor McCarthy's discussions with other Darebin councillors regarding his proposed public meeting on the Northcote Bowl development.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.