MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council has restated its preference for the peninsula to be “peri-regional”, a classification it says would protect the green wedge and unlock “the significant economic potential of our region”.
The peninsula’s green wedge is one of 12 that effectively form a ring around Melbourne outside the urban growth boundaries. Regional areas have rural conservation zones, with fewer planning and use protections.
The shire’s statement on Friday follows claims by Liberal and Labor politicians that only their party’s views on its planning status are best for the peninsula, with the green wedge now a political battleground.
At the moment the peninsula has green wedge zoned areas, and the Liberal Party says a regional classification, with legislative changes, can provide the same “protections”.
Nepean Labor MP Chris Brayne told state parliament last week that the late Alan Hunt, a former Liberal planning minister and father of Flinders MP Greg Hunt, helped establish Melbourne’s green wedge in the 1970s, which was “a key vital planning decision that has [protected the peninsula] from becoming overdeveloped for literally decades”.
The Liberals’ regional classification proposal echoes the wishes of business lobby group Committee for Mornington Peninsula, two of whose former members are now standing as Liberal candidates for state and federal parliament.
The shire’s (unattributed) statement last week said it too shares “the concerns of [the committee] that the peninsula is disadvantaged by its current metropolitan classification”.
In a possibly record-breaking news release (for the eight names it was issued under) from the office of Mr Hunt, the Liberals accused Mr Brayne of having “openly threatened that the Victorian government would act to rescind the Mornington Peninsula Green Wedge if the decision to classify the area as regional is approved”.
The “joint” news release from Mr Hunt’s office gave equal billing to retiring MPs Neale Burgess (Hastings), David Morris (Mornington) and Liberal candidates Zoe McKenzie (Flinders), Sharn Coombes (Dunkley), Sam Groth (Nepean), Briony Hutton (Hastings) and Chris Crewther (Mornington). Ms McKenzie was formerly a director of the Committee for Mornington Peninsula and Ms Hutton its executive officer.
The shire’s statement said it was a “clarification” of an “interview” broadcast on radio station 3AW but did not quote the interview or name of anyone involved.
The news release from Mr Hunt’s office said classifying the peninsula as regional would “secure regional funding for regional problems”.
However, the 2018 Liberal candidate for Nepean, Russell Joseph, said anyone wanting the peninsula to be classified regional “should be careful of what they wish for, and ensure the baby isn’t being thrown out with the bathwater”.
“I have not heard from any regional area about a pot of gold being given to them from state or federal governments because they’re regional,” Mr Joseph, a director of the consultancy Strategic Policy Advice Victoria, said.
He said funding opportunities for being classed as part of metropolitan Melbourne had “never been fully exploited”.
“We have a second rate road network, education, public transport and power supplies, and being regional could cast that die for even longer.
“All of this is missing the point, which is that the peninsula’s infrastructure is underdone and undercooked.
“There’s no evidence that just changing from metro to regional will solve these problems.”
Mr Russell said it was “hopeless to argue” for the peninsula to be regional because it endured the same lockdowns as Melbourne during the pandemic: “That is a health issue, not a planning issue.”
He said the Committee for Mornington. Peninsula had commissioned a report which recommended regional status, but warned “people should remember, he who pays the piper picks the tune”.
“This should be opened up for a broader debate,” he said.
Mr Brayne said that some of the Liberal candidates had changed their “language” since he had “spoken out” about the need to retain the peninsula’s metropolitan status and its “sacred green wedge”.
“The line they now use is, ‘We will make the Mornington Peninsula regional while maintaining green wedge protections’. This is sort of like saying, ‘We want to get rid of the monarchy while also we want to keep the Queen’. It does not work, long term, actively pursuing a regional status.”
Mornington Liberal MP David Morris said planning schemes were easily amended.
“It’s not complicated… To suggest it’s too complex, or that the green wedge will lose its protection, is just plain wrong.”