Mike Hill

On the good news coming our way and a note on planning issues

19 June 2014 — UPDATED 20 June 2014 – If you need some optimism, have a conversation with Mike Hill, who, with his partner Lorna Pitt, developed the green housing project at West Brunswick in Melbourne that has sold like hotcakes.

Amid some hard political observations of government in Victoria – including a hilarious description of government mandarins already jumping ship and briefing the opposition in anticipation of a change of government in November – Hill has some calming views of the big picture in sustainability.

He has a long track record in local government as a councillor, as a sustainability activist and most recently as a board member of Sustainability Victoria.

So the optimism is couched in reality.

We asked him how hard it will be to pick up a green agenda in Victoria after the wrecking ball of the current government actions has been… and perhaps gone.

Not so easy, said Hill.

There was some good environmental work by Labor leaders John Cain and Joan Kirner but then the Kennett government “wiped it out”, he said.

Then came Labor premier Steve Bracks and John Thwaites as planning minister, but the momentum was hard to rebuild.

“You couldn’t pick it up where we left off. It took a while to get off the ground.”

The current opposition leader Daniel Andrews seems reasonably disposed to the green agenda, Hill says.

“In Daniel’s team there are a couple of people who get it. Jane Garrett and Martin Foley are good; on Daniel himself, I don’t know.

“He’s not going to be a raving greenie, although I think they’re all smart enough to know that the Victorian economy is a rust bucket economy and if they’re going to turn Victoria around economically they have to rely on innovation and new initiatives.”

Brumby understood that, Hill says.

Of Dennis Napthine, the current premier, the feeling is “he’s dead in the water”.

“Labor is exhibiting more and more confidence.”

What’s interesting, he says, is the number of departmental secretaries “all talking like there’s going to be a change of government, and they’re now slipping out sideways and briefing Labor”.

There are exceptions with the strong loyalty shown to Mary Wooldride and likewise Peter Walsh, with people seeing Walsh as “quite a good minister” who’s done some innovative things, such as in water issues.

The sad thing at the moment, he says, is the momentum that Victoria has lost on wind energy, ceded to South Australia, which “stole the march” on Victoria.

“Victoria was going to be the leader and it’s now gone seriously backwards and that’s hard to retrieve because it takes years of investment. Even with a four-year term. It takes five years to build up because it’s a big investment and it’s a waste of money.”

A big problem, he says, is that our investment cycles don’t match our political cycles.”

So what does Hill make of the federal environment then? How much longer will it be to pick up from the razed earth policy of the current government that’s arguably been a worse environmental vandal than even the Victorians?

“I’m known for being the eternal optimist and I’m old enough and been around the mills long enough that I can remember the 1960s wave of environmentalism and then the ’70s. Every decade has had environmental issues riding high and then they fall again.”

Right now, he says, the signs are starting to emerge that the same swing back is under way.

“The Lowy Institute survey might be the best indication yet that climate change issues are resurfacing and rising to the fore.”

There are also plenty of strong international signs of growing strength, quite at odds with Abbott’s stance.

Internationally the scene is starting to strengthen and show up prime minister Tony Abbott “as some sort of dinosaur, the way he’s tackling the issue”.

“Greg Hunt, unfortunately, is seen as a bit of a fraud and some of us might have had some hope for him. He talks well but he’s done stuff all.”

On climate issues, says Hill, “I think the mood will swing around quite strongly.”

Some of that will come from environmental factors “quite beyond our control” such as La Niña, with its rain “murdering the idea that the climate is changing”.

“Once the drought starts taking root again we’ll see a different attitude around the traps.”

Another source of optimism, he says, is to look not so much at the government, but big corporates.

“We invest too much energy on what the government is thinking and doing and we don’t necessarily look at the corporate world and the signs of change in the way the boardrooms tackle climate issues.

“All we hear about is about Abbott and mining and dinosaurs but the financial and investment industries are moving in a different direction.”

And there’s another source of optimism, Hill says – the anger that is galvanizing in “all sorts of unexpected quarters – especially the trade exposed industry sectors – those parts of industry that are constantly dealing with the international markets and that show Abbott is out of touch”.

And Hill is someone who would know.

Ricky Muir

The strange and encouraging case of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party

UPDATED: In late breaking news, Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party has signalled he may vote in the Senate to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, stepping outside of the Palmer United Party when the bill goes before the new Senate after 7 July. The way the numbers are lining up he might have the balance of power.

Another surprise may come from Democratic Labor Party’s John Madican who is very interested in the Bluescope’s solar photovoltaic system installed on a Glebe, Sydney, house, with finance from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, also slated for scrapping by the Feds.

The Prahran Army does not want your urbanisation

Take a Tiger airline trip down to Melbourne on the Thursday of a long weekend, because you left it too late and can’t get anything else. Be a bit traumatised.

As the plane takes off you’ve mentioned nothing in particular but the woman in the next seat opens up an avalanche that doesn’t stop until touchdown. You get the feeling somewhere, when the wings flap a bit wildly left and right, that she’s covering for severe flight nerves. You abandon all hope of seeing a single word survive above the flotsam.

Before you can say, “I’m into sustainability, she launches into, an “I’ll tell you about sustainability.”

She lives in Prahan it transpires, in a street that’s coathanger-thin, where there is no parking. (Well, there must be some, you think.)

Across the road from her house, there is a hotel (the words seem to jumble around in space from now on; much like the plane; you can no longer be sure of what you hear.)

But it’s something like this: a developer wants to take the lovely Italianate façade of this hotel, and its 100 year old palms in front, rip them out and put in a six-storey building with 60 apartments, which is 120 extra people with no parking, the woman says. Instead they say people should ride bikes or scooters. “Can you imagine? And I wouldn’t use public transport; not the trams, they’re dangerous, full of junkies since they took the conductors away.”

So the residents will all bring cars anyway, she figures.

And they’ll all park in the car park of the beautiful community swimming pool. Where, if they get their cars in before nine they can leave till 12 noon, then park again at 2 pm and leave till 6 pm, from when they don’t have to bother again until the next parking inspecting shift starts in the morning.

The woman’s boyfriend is moving out of her house because he can no longer cope with the parking fines. The last lot cost him $370 and that’s on top of another $370 fine. Parking is big bikkies.

Notice how the fines have gone up but the wages have not?

But back to the development. The street is so narrow that if someone has a heart attack and there is a taxi picking up or dropping off at that development “you will die” she says.

The woman has door knocked 300 people in the street.

The people she has doorknocked are furious, she says, they had no idea. “Their home is their fortress; their bit of space in this crazy world becoming crazier”. Where do they sign?

Not only do you have to look at 60 stupid flats which might

This woman has inherited the little $1 million cottage she lives in from an uncles, but others have paid similar amounts to live here. They like it’ they don’t want their investment ruined with medium density and urbanisation.

“We like this place, We don’t want your urbanisation,” she says referring to council and government plans.

This woman is from a family that offered refuge to Timorese after the Indonesian invasion. She goes to Timor now and then, keeps in touch, knows the leaders. She knows how to protest and how to lobby She’s been in business and in marketing. She knows how to get what she wants.

Net thing is to find $20 million for a planning consultant and QC to take this thing to court.

Well, that’s what it costs, she says.

“We’re going to call it the Prahran Army. The People’s Army.

“We don’t want your urbanisation.”