Panel Response

Moderator. We’ve had an enormous amount of very valuable information ranging from the truly international to the specifically local. We've had a taste of different kinds of solutions that might be possible, a number of which have been tried and are reportedly successful in other places. We've had examples of approaches which have been tried locally and with varying degrees of success and we've had illustration of a number of fairly significant problems that are perhaps examples of the whole range of issues that are concerned with creating healthy, more enjoyable, sustainable, living localities and communities.

This session is an attempt to come to grips with what is the action that people, that we, might wish to take, given the issues, given the sorts of directions that we've been exposed to. The way that we're going to run this session is that I've asked each of the panel members to think about the issues raised today, and also think of their own experience… If we want to act on creating healthier, better, more sustainable communities, what's the one thing that we really should be focusing on? So what we're going to do in the first instance is go around the panel and ask each person to address that question, with just a minute or so; then we’re going to basically open it to discussion, issues, questions etc. from the floor. Then, depending on the way in which that goes, seek to come up with some direction out of today. So that's the approach and it's very much shaped by what you people think should be done. The way we'll start is I'll simply go round, starting with Peter Newman, and then each person will briefly introduce themselves and will address the question what they think we, representatives of community broadly, should be doing now.

Peter Newman’s comment. I have given a couple of small papers that have been photocopied and are available, if you want to pursue some of the things I’ve said. I have been very impressed by the quality of the presentations that have been given, and the strength of feeling about localities, and the importance of struggling with those issues. I've heard people saying where density high-rise developments should not happen – that they shouldn't be next to a National Park and they shouldn't be on an industrial site. And it's not their role to say where they should be – that's the planner’s role. But you can understand perhaps why someone from DUAP would get a little frustrated hearing only where you cannot do it. Perhaps the situation of where you sit and see where those trade-offs are is worth going through. Let me just make one point. Don't forget car dependence – you can't just brush that aside as something that we don't worry about, because our locality is more important than that. Car dependence is a phenomenon that has many implications and I tried to outline some of them. Overcoming the problems of denser development is going to have to incorporate design guidelines. I've not heard anyone suggest that you've got these design guidelines. I've seen pictures presented of awful high density development and that's the future. There is nothing inevitable about the way these things look. Perhaps you could go on a tour and find, in Sydney or elsewhere, where there is some good higher density development and you can say they're the kind of things that we want and we want to do it in a way that has a character that we like for our area. You have to start defining those guidelines and making that part of the process. If you are just going to be totally against high density, no matter where it is, then I don't think you're going to solve the problem of car dependence and you're not going to be able to win the issues very effectively.

John Brunton’s comment [Director of Planning, Sutherland Shire Council]. From the presentations we've had, there were many, many points that I want to reiterate or comment on. But I've been limited to one, so I'll do that. My suggestion is to have a charter for working together to achieve sustainable communities. The reason why I believe there needs to be a charter is because of the distinct lack of trust that exists and it's a word that's been used several times today and until there is some mechanism for generating greater trust, I don't think the problems that currently exist will be overcome. The problem that I wish to build on is that, as Dirk said earlier this morning, to achieve the sustainable communities that we're talking about, change is necessary and there is a huge reluctance on the part of the community to accept change, because from bitter experience they only see change as being undesirable. What we need is a charter which will say that change will be the growth that Dirk talked about, not development – that we'll be moving towards maturity, that change must be undertaken as a partnership and that the whole process must be based on trust. That's why I believe that there needs to be some sort of agreed charter as a starting point.

Miriam Verbeek’s comment [Sutherland Shire Environment Centre]. There are many things that we need to focus on, but I'm limited to one. We're very good at developing policies. They come out of State Government Departments, they come out of the local Council. Policies on paper are often really good, but the implementation is very poor. So one thing I'd like us to focus on is transparency. Transparency from the bureaucracies, to see if whether what they say in these policies is actually being implemented. Whether the process they are setting in those policies is actually going along on that track – for instance, if they say we're going to be implementing something in 5 years time, that we know that in year 1 these things are being done and that in year 2 these are being done, and so on. Quite often we get to – oh well, we failed in that or yes that was a policy that was developed but it didn't go anywhere, so we're developing another policy now… So I guess transparency, some feedback to the community, may help with developing the trust.

Kerry Bedford’s comment [Director of Policy and Reform Branch in Department of Urban Affairs and Planning]. I work in the part of the Department that's about reform and I'm currently working on PlanFirst, which is really about trying to find a new way to do planning. What I've heard today is a lot of dissatisfaction about what is going on. Dissatisfaction with DUAP, but also dissatisfaction with the outcomes of development. I think we need, as a group – and I would like to see the 'us' and 'them' disappear – is that we could work together in a partnership to look at how we can achieve things in common, because in terms of the outcomes, we all really want the same thing. We want air we can breathe, water we can drink and swim in. We want jobs that are meaningful employment. We want to live in an area that we have a sense of belonging in, that we have a say in its future and that we don't have things imposed on us. So if I have to say one thing, it's to work together to find a way to create the way forward as a group and break down the barrier – the 'us' and 'them'.

Laura Bennett’s comment. I am tempted by implementation, a theme that I did speak to. And this comes from my experience as a politician, not my experience as an academic. It goes to the talk of partnership, to the talk of trust, to the talk of policies which are never implemented, and to the relationship between localities and State and Local Governments. At the end of the day, there is no partnership without power sharing; it really all does come down to power. A partnership which is offered to you where you are the subservient and dependent partner is not a true partnership. A local community needs power with respect to its council and it needs power with respect to the State Government as well. The only way that you can do that is to become involved, as we did in Ku-ring-gai, in the political process. We become involved at local level, and through Council. However, that is not enough. It is necessary then to move into the State level and I do not care how you do it, whether you are a Labor Party person and you work within the Labor party to push for more responsive policies, to push for a greater recognition of what's important to local communities, or whether you do it in the Liberal Party, or whether you join a group such as SOS. I don't care how you do it, but the reality is at the end of the day this is all about power. And the relationships between localities, local groups and other groups are about power and until you sort that out, you are not going to get the results on the ground. As we heard from Warringah, you can have the best LEP in the world, but if the council is not voting in accordance with it, it makes no difference. You can have the best intentioned policies coming out from DUAP in the world, but if you haven't had a say in how they were formulated and in how they work, it doesn't make any difference. So at the end of the day, for the reasons I went into politics, you have to think about political solutions too.

Dirk Bolt’s comment. I would like to go back to the last word of the last speaker before the tea break. It was to develop a nation and not choke a city. Perhaps there is too much talk always about the problems of the city. What we are facing is a problem of how to build a nation, because Australia is the most urbanised place in the world. There cannot be a question of nation building without addressing the issue of how do we build our cities. That is a national question. In answering that question, I believe that the local community should be, as you have said, empowered. At a new level. Why? Because the local community is the only gateway to true democracy. It is nearer to the citizen than any other form of government, and government is there for the benefit of the citizen, not the other way around. It is the essence of democracy. So in my view, the role of local government should be to enable the local community to do as much as it can do, and the role of State Government should be to enable Local Government to do as much as possible, and the role of Federal Government should be to enable State Government to do as much as possible. That should be part of one vision. In that vision I believe that national government should set the aims. It should have a very clear vision of an urban Australia, because that's what we are, that's what Australia is. In the second place within those aims, a direction that is set by Federal Government, the State Government should have very clear objectives. It should be Local Government that implements those objectives, perhaps with funding from the Federal Government for purposes of nation building of this kind. Then I believe that it should be possible to achieve the transparency that has been mentioned, to achieve the kind of partnership that we are looking for and also to do this through a new charter. The charter of the new community, or whatever it is called. But I believe that the clear breaks should be made with the way in which over the last 100 years we've gone about the business of building cities. In the 21st century that way no longer has the perspective that suits the citizens.

Les Robinson’s comment. If there's one thing we can do – and it's always lots of fun and a very redeeming experience in a lobbying campaign – it’s to kick the living bejesus out of the opposition, to identify the enemy and attack them. That's great when you've got an enemy that's uncompromising. Let's take the RTA as an example. But we also have to recognise that, within the Department of Urban Planning at the moment, what I think has happened is that the Department has probably been in a bit of a crisis for the past few years over the complete community rejection of urban consolidation as a policy, and what I think might have happened is that some smart progressive people have taken advantage of that crisis within that Department and have come up with these ideas behind PlanFirst. Now PlanFirst opens a huge number of windows for the community, to get into different models of participatory government and you can probably say that 20 years from now we will have learned from that and discovered how to do it better. But right now PlanFirst is a fantastic opportunity and I think if there's one thing we can do, it's probably not just get cynical and say no let's not do it, it won't go very well. But rather say – No, I'm just going to learn about this. I'm going to download those two documents off the website and read my little book, Open Your Council, and do a couple of other things and then go, get on their backs about it and say, Well, look, I got involved in this PlanFirst process here, and I notice that there is talk about a consensus conference. Well, why aren't we having a consensus conference in say Kirrawee for example. I notice that you're putting out a newsletter but you talk about participation. Well, why aren't we participating in the newsletter to really capture the idealistic spirit and language of parts of PlanFirst, and use it to suit our ends to get on top of the process, because what will happen is that, if PlanFirst is not a success, then the people who got behind it now will lose out in the bureaucratic wars and, a few years from now, things will go back to business as usual. We actually want to get a bit of a leg up in the way our government works and I think that this is a bit of an opportunity, so I would think, get on top of PlanFirst and really use it as our tool, not necessarily their tool.


Moderator. As I see it, the key issues that have just been highlighted are:

1) Lessening car dependence

2) Arriving at positive good design models – not simply trying to resist

3) Creating a charter for working together in ways that will sustain our communities – ways of setting change in a positive direction

4) Ensuring that we have true transparency in the various policies, plans, programs which are promulgated, and there is accountability to the community for their implementation

5) Achieving a partnership to ensure that policies etc. reflect what we all really want

6) Achieving real power sharing and not just consultation.

7) Seeing our challenge as nation building, with a hierarchy of empowerment from Federal down to Local, with a clear vision of urban Australia

8) Taking advantage of the opportunities that PlanFirst does offer to really do something about these issues.

Now let's get some comments or questions from the floor…