Donations to political parties by property developers should be banned. Successive Victorian governments have caved in to the powerful and affluent interests of those property developers that have lined their pockets through donations.
I have always considered Melbourne one of the great cities of the world: sophisticated and consisting predominately of a combination of low-rise period and modern buildings. Melbourne is a city with an abundance of open space that offers top class amenity.
The CBD is one of the few major central business districts that have been built using a grid formation. This gives it a feeling of space and order with wide tree-lined boulevards intersected by quaint narrow laneways. Unfortunately over the previous few decades there have been some appalling urban planning decisions that have left a permanent scar on the City of Melbourne.
Several great period buildings have been demolished. These were ornate buildings that formed part of Melbourne’s history. An example of this was the Federal Hotel and Coffee Palace in Collins Street – one of only a few genuine examples of French Renaissance architecture in Australia. This was a seven-storey building with an intricate facade and unique internal period detail. Built in 1888, it was demolished in 1972 to make way for a speculative concrete tower in what only can be described as a disgraceful act of vandalism. This has not been an isolated occurrence.
Another example of appalling planning policy is Federation Square. Without exaggeration it is the most overdeveloped central piazza in any major city in the world. Essentially, it’s a mass of building bulk with the remaining open space consisting mainly of steps.
In many parts of the world the central square occupies a substantial amount of uninterrupted open space, even in countries with much greater land scarcity than Australia. Community and other events are staged in these areas. Events at Federation Square feel like a disjointed crush of people.
Docklands and the casino complex are further proof that money going into the pockets of politicians from property developers will always result in over development, lack of community amenity and a shortage of open space.
The Melbourne Casino is a monument to greed and cronyism. It’s an appalling monstrosity that dominates the southern bank of the Yarra River. A better fit for Melbourne would have been a boutique casino similar to that in Monte Carlo. But when politicians have to appease the developers that are lining their pockets, local amenity is the last consideration.
As many overseas property developers descend on Melbourne, the banning of donations to political parties becomes even more important. Many of these developers are from countries that have recently experienced new and sustained periods of economic prosperity. They have a lot of money and are ready, willing and able to make their mark on the Melbourne real estate scene.
Having affluent overseas corporations wanting to invest in our city puts us in an enviable position. This opportunity can prove to be a real positive for Melbourne and should be embraced. Our strong economy, growing population, system of freehold title, transparent business practices and land availability is seen as green pastures.
However, we need to tread carefully. In some of these countries offering money to government officials in return for preferential treatment is considered normal business practice.
The construction industry is the cornerstone of job creation. Melbourne’s growing population, expected to be to 7.395 million by 2036, will require companies partnering government to provide much needed supply of housing.
This new phenomenon needs to be managed carefully. New South Wales learnt the hard way-banning donations from developers in 2009 following a corruption scandal. Melbourne should follow suit.
Hopefully, in the future Melbourne’s amenity, liveability and feeling of space won’t be jeopardised by planning decisions based on which developer is prepared to give the most money to political parties. Our city deserves better.