Defined by pride of place

Home Hill, the home of Dame Enid and Joseph Lyons, built in 1916.
Home Hill, the Devonport home of Dame Enid (Australia’s first woman MP) and Joseph Lyons (the only Tasmanian-born PM), from 1916 to 1981 .

My tour of Joseph and Enid Lyons’ family home reminded how democracy – “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – matters. Not only that, but how key Tasmania has been in the evolution of democracy in Australia.

Home Hill, the Lyons’ home from 1916 to 1981, now jointly managed by Devonport City Council and the National Trust, has just hosted its centenary. Dame Enid, Australia’s first woman MP, would have approved of the volunteer-run garden fete; and how the former PM’s home relies on community volunteers who show pride in maintaining its homespun and worldly treasures as if the couple had just left the room.

Lyons’ plain speaking and honest heart led him to turn his back on the Labor party and form the United Australia Party in 1932. Home Hill manager Ann Teesdale points out that, along with the Greens, two Australian political parties had their origins in Tasmania. In fact, she’d like to see “a democracy bus tour” of both founders’ properties – between Home Hill in Devonport and Oura Oura in Liffey. She says it would inspire people to feel proud of democracy and their ability to effect change.

Which is what a Town Hall meeting in Hobart in ten day’s time is desperately hoping to achieve. November 8 is not only US election day. It’s also World Town Planning Day.

Tasmanians are well acquainted with the spirit of public protest; it has stopped dams and mills. Now, 20 (and growing) community and environment groups (from the Beaumauris Action Network to the Tasmanian Planning Information Network) are joining forces, horrified by the proposed statewide planning scheme which seeks to scrap all local planning schemes and replace them with a single Statewide planning scheme.

The draft Statewide Planning Provisions (SPPs) will make a number of significant changes to the way that use and development is assessed in Tasmania. For example, local councils will have no opportunity to refuse development in National Parks and Reserves that has been approved by the Parks and Wildlife Service, and the public will not be given a chance to comment and/or appeal against many significant tourism developments.

Organisers of the Town Hall meeting say it’s hard to get people to care all over again about highly technical and complex legislation when many have had enough of conflict, are burnt out, and their resilience frayed. Nonetheless, they’re motivated by an incremental weakening of planning laws already underway in other parts of the country that removes the legal rights of home-owners and communities.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning at Melbourne’s RMIT, is one of the speakers lined up for the November 8th Town Hall meeting. In Victoria, Buxton has observed “a paradigm shift away from careful and considered strategy-led planning, towards market-driven, ad hoc development facilitation”.

Three months of public hearings on the draft SPPs are now wrapping up, with Minister Gutwein due to receive the final report from the Tasmanian Planning Commission in early December.

Sophie Underwood from the Freycinet Action Network is stepping into the fray again with 20 years of background in planning at a local level in Swanwick. Through her involvement in numerous appeals tribunals including Federal Hotels and RACT developments in Freycinet, she has learned the importance of appeal rights; how they can lead to better decision-making processes for a community affected by development.

“Without third party appeal it’s hard to hold developers to account,” says Underwood. “This is more important than ever because people don’t realize how the draft statewide planning scheme affects every land title in the state. It’s not only a threat to national parks, threatened species, undeveloped coastline, urban amenity and sites of Aboriginal cultural significance. It could potentially impact on everyone in their own backyard.”

At one of the Tasmanian Planning Commission’s Hobart hearings, Underwood says she pleaded with Chair Greg Alomes to talk to the minister and advise him to re-think the whole thing.

“I get how important it is,” says Underwood. “It’s about a vision for Tasmania. It should be a vision for all of us, not just developers’ ability to shape our future. I don’t want to be a victim of something that we didn’t want in the first place.”

Along with the 19 other groups, Underwood, through Freycinet Action Network, is now sharply focused on raising awareness. “My dream is to pack out the Hobart Town Hall on November and see it overflowing onto the street. The government needs to listen to the people.”

Tasmanians have always had a great connection to place. Our local character, different around every corner, is shaped by a distinctly regional way of life. We should all care if there is a risk of losing the right to shape our own lives in the way we have always done; it’s made us who we are.

First published in TasWeekend, October 29, 2016.

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