Governance Issues for Fishermans Bend – Melbourne’s attempted land grabIn city of port phillip, Fishermans Bend, Port Phillip Community
There was a short and inconclusive debate in the media last week about the future governance arrangements for the Fishermans Bend area, i.e. whether it ought to stay largely in the City of Port Phillip or be part of the City of Melbourne. Undeterred that the Minister for Local Government was quoted as saying the Government is not considering any changes to municipal boundaries including the City of Melbourne, that Council will continue to push to grab Fishermans Bend in a motion going to their Future Melbourne Committee on Tuesday.
This issue was started by Lord Mayor Robert Doyle when, driven by an appetite for more of everything, he said he wanted to include the Fishermans Bend area into Melbourne (The Age 9 April). The rationale used by the Lord Mayor seemed to amount to “it’s now a Capital City Zone therefore it should be in the City of Melbourne”. This argument nicely ignores the fact that this zoning is just a Planning Scheme method artificially imposed by the Minister for Planning last year so that he can have control over how high buildings can be in that area. The zoning has nothing to do with what should be the proper governance arrangements for a renewal area targeted for massive population growth. If there are going to be 50,000 or more people living in this precinct, it must remain part of Port Phillip, a real municipality which has a track record of diversity and inclusion and a track record, as per the Montague Structure Plan, of being able to plan properly for such development to produce a liveable, sustainable community. If the view is that the necessary urban renewal needed to bring Fishermans Bend to fruition can only take place if managed by one municipality then that should be the City of Port Phillip.
Let’s consider what the City of Melbourne should be about and what a large and growing residential area might need in terms of local government.
My view is that Capital Cities ought to have local government which very specifically focuses on those functions of key relevance with the added role of looking after residents who happen to live within its boundaries. One only needs to consider that there is a separate City of Melbourne Act, i.e. they do not fall under the Local Government Act although there are many obvious similarities. Key to the differences are those issues relating to the franchise for being an eligible voter which results in strong representation for business and other interests, potentially at the expense of residents. And there’s something not quite right when some candidates felt the need to spend up around half a million dollars to try and get elected.
So, while a Council with broad interests is appropriate for governing the Capital City, having elected Councillors who don’t live in the municipality means that this is not local government that everyone else needs and experiences across Victoria. I can’t see the relevance for people living in, say, Flemington or Kensington or the planned 50,000+ people who will live in Fishermans Bend in the future, having a Council whose interests are Capital City, big business, maximising tourism and the like. Sister City relationships are probably important for a Capital City but ordinary residential ratepayers might be troubled by the extent of overseas travel paid for by their rates. The focus needs to be on sustainable liveability with all of the necessary infrastructure and facilities. The people of Southbank are already significant users of Port Phillip facilities and the same will happen with those who will live in Fishermans Bend.
The growth in residential population in the CBD over the past twenty years has been good for the heart of the city. But we shouldn’t pretend that further land grabs by the City of Melbourne is the next logical step. Those who have been around long enough will remember the 1993 annexation of the Southbank area and other parts from the then City of South Melbourne to the City of Melbourne under the Kennett Government. Incidentally, the one small piece of Fishermans Bend now in the City of Melbourne is a result of that annexation. That change gave Melbourne substantial additional rate revenue including the casino, but the reality has been that Southbank is a disastrous developer led precinct where higher is seen as mightier and which now lacks the heart and soul of a local community. Those residential areas are largely nothing to do with “capital city”. We can be very sure that the same poor outcomes will result if Fishermans Bend ends up with the City of Melbourne.