A lengthy backlog of printed letters from mostly The Age, collected from the last 3 months, on overpopulation, overdevelopment and property planning issues. Unfortunately, none of the few I sent were published.
(I just found out how to make cuts so I don’t clog up the front page with long entries!)
Smallest of creatures plays a big role
Golden sun moths, like canaries in coalmines, could be regarded as indicators of ecosystem health (“Rare moth stalls housing plans”, The Age, 13/12).
They are just one component of a diverse flora and fauna of the rapidly shrinking western basalt plain grasslands. If they are threatened by rapid urban development, so too are many other species, such as legless lizards, whip snakes and dunnarts, as well as hundreds of plant species. Our Victorian volcanic plain bioregion is regarded as a biodiversity hot spot. As such, it attracts priority funding for conservation issues.
Unfortunately, it is also vulnerable and is often ignored by developers, shires, water authorities and machinery operators, who appear surprised when they are fined for breaches of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
While the “offsetting” process is not without problems, at least it makes land managers appreciate the cost and significance of further destruction of this grassland community.
Careful, seasonally appropriate, flora and fauna assessments must be made for any development in a native grassland area and the proper steps taken to preserve listed species or communities.
– Stuart McCallum, Victorian Volcanic Plain Biosphere, Bannockburn
Reason is required
I can appreciate Paul Bugeja’s concern (Letters, 14/12) for better planning to balance building up the inner city with new developments on Melbourne’s ever-expanding outer edges.
But the core issue is our unfettered population growth that is driving the need for all this additional accommodation.
Who is it, exactly, who wants all these extra people in Melbourne, causing the many problems that are regularly documented? Apart from developers, of course, and governments hopeful for a short-term economic boost, irrespective of the detrimental longer-term effects. Where is the voice of reason in the population debate?
– Andrew Verlei, Patterson Lakes
Beware the wedge
It is a shame that some people, like Paul Bugeja, resort to references to the opinions of others as NIMBY, seemingly as a way of dismissing their concerns.
I’m sure I am one of many who would like to see the remnants of the natural environment and amenity within the city enhanced and preserved, as well as maximum preservation of natural areas on the urban fringe. The only way to achieve this is to heavily moderate our population growth.
Creating an imaginary two-sided argument between one group called NIMBYs against another group as yet unnamed is simply falling into the trap of wedge politics.
– Jill Quirk, Malvern East
Ted: heed message Brumby ignored
Kelvin Thomson tells it like it is (“Brumby too cosy with business: Labor MP”, The Age, 15/12). The Brumby government had indeed cosied up to the big end of town, allowing planning policy to benefit developers to the detriment of communities. The explosion of bland, concrete high-rise apartments across Melbourne are a blight on our city, ignoring neighbourhood character, heritage and the views of residents.
This bulldozer approach to planning included the building of ever more freeways encircling our green open spaces and remaining green wedges with concrete. Together with a bigger-is-better population policy also driven by the big end of town, Melbourne is rapidly becoming decidedly less liveable.
Public transport has languished, with no new suburban rail initiatives (apart from the overdue South Morang extension), poor services and the myki fiasco, the cost of which could have helped finance new trains/trams and bus services as well as rail infrastructure, including new lines to Doncaster and Melbourne Airport.
These issues were significant in the election and, combined with an arrogance towards those daring to speak out against its policies, cost the Brumby government the election. If the Baillieu government fails to deliver on transport and planning and also becomes too cosy with business, the electorate will respond accordingly at the next election.
– Dennis O’Connell, Montmorency
Arrest the decline
William McDougall (Letters, 16/12) tries to lull us into a false sense of security about population growth by averaging out the increase over the past 40 years. But the recent growth rate of 2 per cent, if continued, will mean the population will double every 35 years.
First we had the Bracks government’s blueprint, Melbourne 2030, with an anticipated population of 4 million; then 10 years later the Brumby plan Melbourne@5 million; and now there is talk among developers and property interests that we must develop a plan for “Melbourne@8 million”.
The Brumby government could not keep up with provision of infrastructure and services for such a rapidly expanding population. It was judged accordingly at the ballot box. Victoria now needs a sustainable population policy to determine just how many people we can accommodate so our current living standards are maintained and the decline in our environment arrested.
– Julianne Bell, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria, Parkville
Data says differently
Those with a vested interest in population growth persistently make assertions not supported by the facts. Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian executive director, Tony De Domenico, called Kelvin Thomson’s assessment – that population increase was a factor in the downfall of the Brumby government – nonsense. He said: “Increased population means more jobs, and that means more economic activity” (“MP’s claim rejected”, The Age, 17/12).
Bureau of Statistics data for 2008-09 show clearly the effect of population growth. The states with the highest rate of population growth suffered the greatest fall in per capita gross state product. In other words, Victorians became worse off, on average, because of population growth.
– John Coulter, Sustainable Population Australia, Scott Creek, SA
New planning broom
News of a significant decline in open space after a decade of population growth and high density development (“ ‘Garden state’ at risk as population flourishes”, The Age, 20/12), highlights the damage Labor’s planning policy, Melbourne 2030, has done to Melbourne.
With developers given almost free rein, particularly in inner suburbs with higher land values, a sharp decline in open space and green areas has brought a decline in liveability. Increased congestion, greater pollution and social impacts are quite apparent. Little wonder the public moved to end this cram-and-stack policy through the ballot box last month.
Now the stage is set for a new vision for Melbourne, which should include a greater role for regional centres and less focus on the inner and middle suburbs, which have infrastructure that is clearly at breaking point.
– Mathew Knight, Malvern East
Labor must learn
I wonder which developer will be the first to offer John Brumby a job after his loyalty in transforming Melbourne into one of the most overdeveloped, overpopulated, over-taxed and over-priced cities in the world.
He has left many with the sour taste of declining living standards and quality of life, while rewarding his business mates. Daniel Andrews and Julia Gillard claim to have working-class roots, yet there is no acknowledgement from them of what Melbourne has become.
Labor, state and federally, should take heed of Kelvin Thomson’s recent comments. It seems he is the only Labor politician in touch with reality, and representing Labor’s true values. Labor will stay in the wilderness and continue to bleed votes if the Brumby legacy is perpetuated.
– Tony Smith, Burwood
Let’s aim for zero
The decline in Australia’s population growth rate from 2.2 to 1.7 per cent is most welcome (“Growth rate lowest since 2007”, The Age, 22/12).
Nevertheless, if this growth rate is maintained, Australia’s population will double in 41 years, that is, from 22.3 million to 44.6 million by 2051. This is not something to look forward to, especially with the uncertainties thrust on us by climate change and rising fuel prices.
Let us hope the growth rate steadily declines until it reaches zero. It will mean less intrusion on other species’ habitats, less demand on our water and energy supplies, and give us a chance to have infrastructure catch up with previous population growth.
– Jenny Goldie, Sustainable Population Australia member, Michelago, NSW
Houses as homes
The housing price boom always comes just before the bust. One tax minimisation manoeuvre underpinning this rampant inflation is negative gearing. Too often it leads to empty, decaying “deductions”. While cycling in wildly developing Brunswick, I see all varieties of homes, residents and lifestyles. One thing darkens those journeys: the number of “dead” houses. Not unkempt rental properties, but houses that have been empty for years, are in the queue for demolition and were likely to have been acquired as an investment. They are obviously about tax deductibility rather than appropriate development or urban progress.
The gradual reduction of negative gearing should have begun five years ago, but better late than never. The federal government should reduce the tax deductibility that owners can claim by 20 per cent each year. Let’s go back to houses being homes. No one needs a crash, so rein in the runaway now.
– Ken Taylor, Brunswick West
Keith Dunstan (“Plagues be upon us – let’s hope for no divine retribution”, Opinion, 4/1) is deluded if he thinks that Melbourne has been visited by a plague of possums. The problem is the demise of the great Australian backyard.
Possums and birds were once accommodated in spacious, treed gardens. Now possums are being driven into small and fragmented habitats as trees are felled and gardens concreted over with wall-to-wall unit developments or granny flats. Not only is there no room for native animals, but we have kissed goodbye to those great Australian icons, the Hills Hoist and the backyard lawn.
– Julianne Bell, Parkville
Back the backyard
The Australia Day special (23/1) did a good job of cataloguing things people find valuable about their backyards. However, it did not expose the steady degradation of the urban environment due to the failure of successive governments to protect the backyard.
Under Victorian law, free-standing houses can be built to as little as one metre from the rear boundary. The broader environmental benefits of backyards in urban areas include carbon storage, rain absorption to maintain the health of waterways and to manage storm water, the maintenance of biodiversity, and mitigation of the heat island effect associated with the thermal mass of buildings and roadways.
We should introduce a minimum setback between the house and the rear boundary to reflect the real value of the backyard.
– Ian Hundley, North Balwyn
Don’t blame the backyard
I applaud Ian Hundley’s comment (“Back the backyard”, Letters, 30/1) on the environmental virtues of a backyard, denigrated by successive state governments and those charged with Melbourne’s development. The backyard fulfils a crucial environmental, social and cultural role. It should never be consigned to the dustbin of history – and judging by the continued desire of Australians to own their own detached home with a backyard, I doubt it will be. The quarter-acre block is not responsible for suburban sprawl and any of its attendant negative outcomes. Such outcomes are a long-standing failure of government policy, will and vision post-war to provide infrastructure for a reasonable life. Service and infrastructure provision should not be determined by housing choice and location.
Suburban sprawl, while certainly having problems that need to be addressed, has afforded more and more people the kind of privacy, comfort and access to services that were once the preserve of the wealthy.
– Ramsay Wright, Richmond
Demise of a well-loved institution
The demise of the quarter-acre block seems inevitable for the average Australian citizen and this is sad.
The alternative – boxes reaching skyward to house an ever-burgeoning population serving the corporate masters of consumerism – is frightening.
Despite the great benefits of technology, in the hands of some it becomes a scourge to future humanity. Sadly, the great majority seem incapable of weighing future gratification against long-term suffering.
– Paul Murchison, Kingsbury
Just what we don’t need: more buyers
Developers are lining their own pockets and magnanimously claiming that foreign buyers are “helping to create jobs in Victoria and boost new housing supply at a time when building activity had plummeted” (“Developers court overseas buyers”, The Age, 7/2).
There is no lack of buyers in Victoria, but a lack of affordability. We are being overwhelmed by the need for public housing, and homelessness is increasing.
Australians are being priced out of the housing market, and being bypassed by well-heeled foreigners.
We are being sold out by a lack of Australian leadership and patriotism, and betrayed by globalisation.
Overseas investors are encouraged to buy newly built real estate. How does this help the majority of Victorians if competition, and prices, continues to increase?
Land is not a limitless resource in what is already the most cleared and damaged state, and an economy that depends on housing also depends on unsustainable population growth.
– Vivienne Ortega, Heidelberg Heights
Points of property
I was surprised to read the Simonds spokesman say that a house counted for 28 out of 150 points towards permanent residency (“Developers court overseas buyers”, The Age, 7/2). As an experienced immigration practitioner, neither of those figures have any meaning to me.
There are two popular points tests in immigration use, one a general skilled test where points are allocated for things like language ability. The pass mark is 120 and no points are allocated for property ownership in Australia.
There is also a business skills points test, where some points are available for assets, including property. Sometimes visa applicants prefer to nominate assets in Australia because their value is more easily assessed. The maximum points available for combined assets is 15, with a total value of at least $2.5 million.
It’s a grave concern that property agents are providing incorrect immigration advice to visa applicants who may relay on that advice to their detriment.
– David Stratton, Melbourne
Marika Dobbin’s article on courting overseas property buyers quotes Mark Vujovich, of Simonds Homes, as having 23 agents in China seeking investors. The article suggests that this apparently frenzied activity is actively supported by government.
What society has ever allowed private entrepreneurs to manage a substantial alteration to the mix of a nation’s people, with no calling to account by paid or elected officials? I cannot think of any case in history of traders planning the immigration of a moneyed elite from overseas, let alone 23 agents’ worth. One dreads the long-term effects.
George Zhang says that Australia, “is paradise…for small-business people” and “it is easy to recruit because there’s a lot of students who want to work part-time”. That does not seem to be of much value to the whole community in the long run.
– Paul McGann, Glen Waverley
No looking back
A free-standing house, garden (and room for a pet), an outside entertaining area and off-street undercover parking are still a dream for some (“Forget the ’burbs when there are trams and laksa on your doorstep”, The Age, 17/2). Three years ago, my same-sex partner and I moved from the inner city to the ’burbs.
Having lived in the inner city for the best part of 20 years, I’m well aware of its charms and attractions. For me these have diminished; primarily because the city struggles to cope with the pressures of increased population.
We have no regrets, preferring the sounds of birds, the odd barking dog and lawn mowers on the weekends, to trams, trains, traffic, and noisy late-night revellers.
It’s bliss to share casual pleasantries, rather than adjoining walls, the ceiling or floors with neighbours. As for the laksa, I’ve always cooked and we have room now to grow vegetables.
My sister lives in South Yarra and often walks to work in the CBD, not because of some keep-fit program but because the trains are cancelled or too crowded and taking the tram is no viable option when travelling any real distance.
– Michael Graham Smith, Essendon West
Xenophobia, or vital concern?
Ross Gittins (Comment, 23/2) seems to claim that speaking out on the subjects of immigration and refugee arrivals is some form of xenophobia.
It is nothing of the sort. It is surely our civic responsibility to voice our concern to our political leaders and demand that the country should not continue its present direction. Our schools are overflowing, our roads and city centres are congested, our public transport is overloaded, house prices are going through the roof and our environment is being eroded by expanding urban boundaries – that’s the reality of Australia today.
All of these problems are directly caused by poor population management. To not stand up and voice our concern is just burying one’s head in the sand. Politicians who refuse to listen and understand the calls from a broad range of Australian society for a significantly reduced and better judged immigration, refugee and population policy are jeopardising Australia’s future prosperity and any chance of a harmonious future.
– Bernard Ellis, South Yarra
The world’s population is growing at the rate of 260,000 people every day, and that rate is rising. Yet world leaders do nothing.
Many influential people in Australia are pushing for a continuation of our recent rates of population growth, without regard for the consequences. It has been estimated that it costs $263,000 for every person’s infrastructure requirements. Governments thus have to find an additional $94 billion every year, compounding year on year, at our current rate of growth. If we froze our population today it would take at least 15 years to clear the backlog of demand for services.
A 2010 study published in the US found that the 25 slowest-growing metro areas outperformed the 25 fastest-growing in every category and averaged $8455 more in per capita personal income in 2009.
Population growth is economically bad as well as environmentally bad. We need to start pushing federal politicians to engage in encouraging all countries, starting with Australia, to introduce population control strategies before it is too late for our planet.
– John Blackborrow, Little River
Before considering further development in western Sydney, Barry O’Farrell should go to see the aerial photographs in Andrew Merry’s exhibition Boomburbs at the Museum of Sydney (“Green light for urban sprawl”, February 8). The existing urban sprawl of yardless McMansions cheek by jowl, and nary a tree in sight – or a human for that matter – is a terrifying sight. Not a solar panel on the huge expanses of roofs, either.
No more of the same for Sydney, please.
– Toni Pollard, Paddington
Cut welfare for the wealthy
Instead of extra taxes that will hurt those already struggling, why not cut back on expensive welfare handouts in order to fund the recovery of flooded areas?
The baby bonus is the most obvious. The Labor Government has promoted the idea of a sustainable population in the past. Cutting back (or even better, abolishing) the baby bonus would save billions. Taxpayers have been burdened with this policy, which was introduced to increase the birth rate, for a decade now. I doubt it’s as popular as it once was.
Also, increasing parental leave and all the expenditure associated with that increase should not go ahead, certainly not in these critical times.
Perhaps tax breaks given to parents with large families could also be reduced.
If the Government is concerned these cuts will not be popular, neither is increasing the cost of medication and education and adding other taxes to families already burdened by rising prices.
– Eleonora Symmonds, Warrnambool