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Adjournment speech: Infrastructure

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 16 Jun 2017

Tuesday 13 June

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:37): On another matter, suburbs of Western Sydney are under attack from developers in the New South Wales Liberal-National government who are abusing planning, transport and housing laws to favour the interests of their constituency: corporate Australia. The suburbs along the Bankstown line from Sydenham to Bankstown, including historical suburbs of Marrickville, Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Canterbury, Campsie, Belmore, Lakemba and Punchbowl, are facing increasing levels of demolition to make way for high-density apartments. Many of these suburbs consist of postwar federation and California-style bungalows and have been excellently restored. Much of the streetscape of these suburbs retains architectural integrity and is recognised by the National Trust.

These suburbs are now being sacrificed by the zealots of the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment, who have decided to implement this so-called 'urban renewal strategy', although the word 'strategy' flatters and distorts what is happening. This so-called 'strategy' is little more than almost childlike circles that mark out 400- and 800-metre radiuses around each of the railway stations of Marrickville, Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Canterbury, Campsie, Belmore, Lakemba, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Bankstown. These arbitrary circles outline large circles for up-zoning of up to 25-storey apartment buildings in quiet, residential suburban streets lined mostly with single and low-density housing.

This high density is not on brownfield or greenfield sites. It involves the demolition of hundreds and hundreds of streets, consisting mainly of single-dwelling homes. The Sydney Morning Herald on 14 October 2015 set out the government's plans under the heading, 'Rail revamp opens door to 36,000 units'. In a nutshell, the plan is to rip up the perfectly functioning heavy rail line, the Sydney-to-Bankstown T3 line—publicly funded—and hand it over to MTR, a Hong Kong-based metro operator. This plan is linked to the urban renewal rezoning of thousands of sites along the railway corridor to provide patronage to the metro operator. And now the state of New South Wales is asking the federal government to pitch in and become part of this farce. Developer and property lobby groups, such as the Committee for Sydney, are driving these plans. The Prime Minister's wife Lucy Turnbull was the chairperson of the Committee for Sydney and is now the honorary chairperson.

What leads me to bring this issue to the attention of the parliament is what appears to be a very serious conflict of interest by the Prime Minister's wife and various Committee for Sydney members. There appears to be a lack of governance and transparency in how Mrs Turnbull undertakes her work—

Senator McGrath: Are you serious? You attack the Prime Minister's wife! You're a grub!

Senator RHIANNON: Most serious and happy to take your interjections. The Committee for Sydney's—


Senator RHIANNON: submission on the Sydney Metro City and South-West, dated July 2015, reflects this failing. When the strategy was announced in October 2015, the Department of Planning and the Environment released no technical reports to back the strategy up. This was quite extraordinary, to say the least.

The urban renewal strategy is a developer's dream: whole suburbs, low-rise and historic in nature, some over 100 years old, face an extensive rezoning for high-rise skyscrapers, all designed to provide patronage for MTR's metro train. The former Canterbury Council, which bears the brunt of the onslaught of the strategy rezonings, agreed to a mayoral minute, dated 12 November 2015. This stated:

1. Council request an urgent meeting with the New South Wales Minister for Planning to discuss council's concerns in relation to the draft Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Strategy Corridor.

2. The minister and the department be advised that

Council opposes the Draft Strategy in its present form

Council request the immediate release of all supporting studies and reports in the department's possession relating to the Strategy

Council again requests that the exhibition period for the Strategy be extended…

The technical reports that the mayoral minute was alluding to were the following: the Arup traffic analysis; AECOM's economic land study; Hill PDA's reassessment of the property market; JBA's planning report. These reports had an embargo placed upon them and were not released online until 4 December 2015. All reports were released except for the JBA planning report, which I understand has still not been released.

It is worth noting that the above companies are all members of the Committee for Sydney. These developments raise many relevant questions. Is it a coincidence that at the time the media were doing various articles on the Prime Minister's wife's alleged conflict of interest these reports were suppressed by the department of planning? Is it a coincidence that 24 hours after the announcement that Mrs Turnbull would become Chief Commissioner for the Greater Sydney Commission that the reports by Arup, AECOM and Hill PDA were released online by the Department of Planning?

Elton Consulting is a member of the Committee for Sydney. This company was engaged by the department of planning to undertake workshops in the various Inner West suburbs affected by the strategy. Elton Consulting has a long history of working for governments to facilitate and drive through controversial projects. This company lodged a submission on behalf of property owners in Sydenham, dated 28 January 2016, as part of the public consultation process, but the submission was submitted under the name of DesignInc. The submission can be seen on the department of planning online submissions register. How extraordinary! Elton Consulting, responsible for community engagement, is representing property interest stakeholders. Community engagement has reached a farcical stage with this urban renewal. How can the public have any confidence in the department of planning and the Greater Sydney Commission to deal with the strategy in a transparent and fair manner considering this web of obscurity?

JBA Planning undertook various aspects of the planning process for the strategy, yet there is no report published online by the department. JBA Planning also represented Australian Turf Club owners of Canterbury Racecourse. JBA made submissions for rezoning on behalf of the Australian Turf Club. The role of Elton Consulting and JBA Planning raises further questions. Is the Prime Minister's wife representing the members of the Committee for Sydney, who are pushing a developer agenda on the Greater Sydney Commission, which is supposed to be at arm's length? What was Mrs Turnbull's knowledge of the alleged suppression of the technical reports for the Sydenham—

Senator McGrath: Really? You attack someone's wife!

Senator RHIANNON: I am happy to take your interjections. You are very revealing.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Gallacher): Order!

Senator McGrath: Can you get any lower?


Senator RHIANNON: What was Mrs Turnbull's knowledge of the alleged suppression of the technical reports for the Sydenham to Bankstown urban renewal strategy after the announcement of her appointment as Chief Commissioner of Greater Sydney Commission? Why did the chief executive officer of the Committee for Sydney, Tim Williams, not disclose to the Sydney Morning Herald in October 2015 that the firm in which he is listed as a part-time principal, Arup Australia, prepared the transport traffic study?

It is also relevant that Arup provides office accommodation to the Committee for Sydney. Surely this information should have been disclosed to the department of planning. The Sydney Morning Herald of 14 October 2015 reported Tim Williams, the chief executive of the Committee for Sydney, said the plan at last represented a serious attempt to integrate land use and transport planning. Has Elton Consulting and JBA Planning received information from their involvement with the department of planning and the Greater Sydney Commission that has informed their work with property owners and benefited these clients? Did Elton Consulting and JBA Planning have access to all secret rezoning maps? Can Mrs Turnbull assure the people of New South Wales that the Committee of Sydney is not driving policies that benefit the developers and corporations that are its members?

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