The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

Inaugral Alan Hunt Oration

Speech to the Urban Development Institute of Australia
7 March 2014

Introduction: Of Gin and Salvation

On the day of my father's funeral I noted that Dad would have been particularly delighted that Edward O'Donohue was representing the Premier.

Not just because Ed represents Dad's old seat.

Not just because the O'Donohue's have been family friends for over 40 years.

But in particular, because Ed has ministerial responsibility for two of Dad's great joys, Liquor & Gaming! Actually, he called them the simple pleasures.

In fact I see many among you who shared some of those joys with my father over the years.

It was not always thus, however!

Dad's brother David Hunt is with us in the audience today. Two weeks ago I launched his autobiography.

David's book reminded me that the three brothers Alan, Colin and David Hunt grew up in a deeply religious, loving but in many ways austere household.

Alan's father, my grandfather Robert, was the officer in charge of Melbourne's largest Salvation Army congregation. The Church was the focus of family life and there was general disdain for what were seen as worldly pastimes.

The family lived in near poverty, both through the depression and the war years. Rationing made things worse, although as a deemed essential services worker, my Grandfather was entitled to a car at a capped rate every two years.

On a number of occasions, Grandfather Hunt was offered more than a year's wages to simply sell his old car on the black market. Despite the financial relief for his family, he refused every time. The patriarch's belief was that our duty was to the long term, as was our reward.

That sense of his own father's absolute probity remained a lifelong pillar in Alan Hunt's own thinking. As did the sense of the long term.

But there were other lessons too.

By age nine, Alan's brother David had become the state's leading child radio star. Under the guidance of Hector Crawford, David became Melbourne's wartime Shirley Temple. His salary doubled the family's wages. And then one day it was revealed that the sponsor of David's weekly radio show was Vickers Gin. Well, that spelt the immediate end of a promising radio career.

As a boy myself, I wondered why Dad always kept a bottle of Vickers in the wet cupboard. It was only later I discovered the silent protest at what he felt was an injustice against his younger brother.

In part, the themes of Alan Hunt's life were thus set early: a deep sense of duty, a belief in fairness, most particularly in the form of individual opportunity, and a commitment to the long term.

It was these three principles that defined his parliamentary and ministerial life, and which helped lay the foundation for much of Melbourne's current structure.

And so today, I want to thank the UDIA for allowing me the opportunity and the honour to give the Inaugural Alan Hunt Oration.

In doing so, I want to explore two themes.

First, Alan Hunt's life and his legacy, most notably the principle that planning for the long term requires balance. He supported both conservation and development, but each in their place. And through that he played his part in helping shape Melbourne's current and future form.

And second, I want to set out a plan based on three proposals for renewing our cities, drawing from Alan's principles.

Alan Hunt Life and Legacy: 9 October 1927 - 19 July 2013

Alan Hunt was born in Peterborough, South Australia, on 9 October 1927. In order to follow the church his parents moved the family to Melbourne.

The Joy of Study

Alan proved to be a brilliant student, and by age 10 he had consumed the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. As a Latin and literature scholar, he went on to win scholarships to Melbourne Grammar and then to Melbourne University where he studied Arts and Law.

Both the joy of literature and the sense that education was the key to opportunity never left him. He learnt early that hard work was a deep satisfaction of and in itself and that it not only helped the individual, but underpinned community and society.

Shortly after graduating he moved to Mornington in the early 1950's and soon became a partner in the law firm Frost and Hunt. His name still sits with the firm 60 years later. He never left Mornington and he loved the Mornington Peninsula.

On the Peninsula, his life was divided between family, nature, art and work.

Family

Dad loved all his wives. We believe there were only three.

And then, in his 70's and 80's he found his abiding love in Leila and finally settled down. Of course they didn't marry, because by this time he was convinced that marriage was bad luck -and that living in sin as an 80 year old had an exotic ring to it.

As a father to five boys he was always teaching. Not through lessons, but through discussion. In my own childhood, we would sit around the table at night and talk about the need to think in terms of the 30, 50 and 100 year implications of our decisions.

As we talked about water supplies, road networks, growth corridors and the future of river ports and rail networks, his greatest passion was reserved for the environment. He believed that people need open sanctuaries, space and a connection with the natural world to be whole.

It was not a utopian view at all - he was a planning minister who never shied from authorising new development areas in the right place - but it was a sense that while the material was vital to living standards, indeed an indispensable means, it was not enough. This was daunting for a seven year old. But it left an imprint.

He was a father, a lover of literature and a lover of nature.

Work

But his main vocation in life was his parliamentary career. From the moment he entered parliament in 1961, it dominated his life.

Our Sundays were spent with chicken growers, fruit growers and grape growers around the dining room table. They debated long into the night and then usually resolved their differences over a wine ...or even a whiskey! ...Occasionally.

Giants such as Phil Lynch, Robert Dunstan, Bill Borthwick and Dick Hamer would debate the 30 and the 50 year vision around that table. The decisions to create the Green Wedges and to save Green's Bush were taken at that table.

Alan Hunt was not a hater, but one thing he despised was bureaucracy. He believed that timely decision making was a fundamental duty of Government. It was part of his concept of fairness. Speed, he said was essential.

On coming to ministerial office he locked himself away for a month to dictate decisions and replies to almost 1000 overdue planning applications or letters. I know the feeling!

He thereafter set about streamlining the decision making system with clear rules and simple processes. Always, though, it was the long term he had in mind.

Indeed, the long term was his touchstone. He thought in terms of decades and he thought of preserving the great tracts of bush for future generations.

He simply loved nature.

Nature

So whenever he was with any of his sons or, until recently, with Leila, he loved to walk.

He would point out the rosellas, the lorikeets, the parrots, the galahs and the cockatoos.

He knew them all.

It was natural then that he would seek to preserve nature. The Briars, the Green Wedges, the Mt Eliza buffer, Brimbank Park and Green's Bush. These are his legacy.

Legacy

Among all of these, his most abiding legacy was the concept of Green Wedges. He firmly believed that not just Melbourne but all cities should be allowed to grow, but with indispensable sanctuaries and oases of green space preserved for future generations.

He knew these boundaries would never be static and was comfortable with change. But he also knew that once a park was created, the weight of history would be with it. Once a Brimbank Park or Green's Bush was preserved, the weight of history would be with it.

Planning meant identifying and preserving the spaces for roads and railways and development, for he believed passionately in the enterprise of men and women. Planning also meant identifying and preserving the spaces for nature, for he believed passionately in the indivisibility of humanity and the natural world.

Perhaps no-one better summarised this legacy than Ted Baillieu who in the State Parliament's condolence motion for Alan simply said:

"Melbourne is the world's most liveable city, and Alan Hunt had a major part in that."

He would be happy with that. Well almost.

A Vision for Our Cities

I say "almost" because Dad never dwelt on the past. He was relentlessly focused on the future and so he would expect me to set out my own plan for our cities.

The starting point is, of course, that our cities are amongst the most liveable in the world. This is no idle boast but a fact borne out by numerous indicators. However, the challenges are relentless and we will have to meet those challenges head on if our cities are to retain their cherished liveability status.

The best cities comprise a series of connected communities. No one can invent this sense of community. It is fortunately already deep within the imprinted sense of who we are. Our natural sense of community needs little interference from government. Where Government does have a role is in ensuring there is a broadly agreed long-term vision for the basic shape and structure of the city and to create a broadly agreed roadmap to reach that vision.

I have spoken at length on this subject previously but I will briefly touch on it again. I believe we are at a moment in history where each Australian city could bring together Federal, State and local authorities to lay out an overarching physical roadmap for the next 30 and 50 years.

It could take the form of an Integrated Planning Commission led by each of the States or something more modest. Either way, the Commonwealth is not imposing, but offering to participate in the long-term vision for each of our cities.

In creating and defining an agreed long-term vision for the shape of our cities into the future, there are a number of crucial elements to consider. So allow me today to set out some of my own ideas for a three-part long-term plan for renewing our cities from a national perspective.

Urban Renewal: Reclaiming the dead space

One priority as we plan our cities is urban renewal. The perennial problems of urban sprawl and housing affordability are often viewed as opposite sides of a coin: a win-lose scenario. But what if you could tackle both of these issues simultaneously?

Our overhead electricity transmission corridors and our rail lines can be dead spaces which divide communities. These overhead transmission wires are not only inefficient but they create dead zones that are resented by neighbours.

History, however, is on our side. The price of land is going up while the relative price of underground electric cabling is falling. If for example half that land were turned over for public parks and half to residential development, I believe there would be a huge net benefit in terms of both housing affordability and liveability.

This does not have to happen overnight. We could begin by commissioning a feasibility study on where the best opportunities lie to clean up our overhead space and free up land both for the public and for housing. Many areas will not be suitable. But the relative price of land and underground electric cables will make this proposition almost impossible to ignore over time. And unlike most developments, the neighbours are likely to be very happy if the overhead transmission lines disappear.

The same consideration could be given to the progressive undergrounding over 30 years of our urban rail lines with financing to come from the freeing up of land above. Few neighbours would resent the loss of train lines from behind their back fences. The progressive phasing out of Melbourne's 170 level crossings would be both an extraordinary safety measure as well as a true congestion by-pass for coming generations.

Moreover we are seeing in the US and the UK, new financing models for other forms of urban renewal. Both the UDIA and the Property Council have proposed New City Deals using what is known as incremental tax financing.

This is not about the Commonwealth paying out funds in advance. It is about a deal where an initial state investment to regenerate a degraded urban area is then followed by an uplift in economic growth and an agreed proportion of the additional Commonwealth revenue is returned to the State.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has committed to having greater private sector involvement in infrastructure. Mr Hockey has also noted that the New South Wales Government has the right idea with the extended lease of ports and proceeds going into new road infrastructure.

This is a benchmark for the rest of Australia and, arguably, for many countries around the world. As an early candidate, it is high time to consider a deal by which the old Maribyrnong defence land is regenerated into a new university or biomedical campus and precinct.

Social Renewal: Mental health research and treatment hub

Renewing our broken spaces is a vital national task. However, renewing our broken minds and helping those with mental health challenges is an indispensable national task.

While mental health is a topic for a more extensive treatment, we are blessed with extraordinary research facilities under the guidance of Professor Patrick McGorry at Melbourne University and Professor Jayashri Kulkarni at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre.

Professor McGorry has proposed a new national youth mental health precinct in the form of a purpose-built facility at Parkville, which could function as an integrated clinical, research and training facility. This would complement broader services throughout Victoria.

The Federal Government has already provided recurrent funding for the National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health. Planning for this new national platform for mental health research, training and workforce development is going well and should be launched in the second half of the year.

My personal view is that Professor McGorry's proposed new facility could become the regional home of this important new national initiative and, in the short term, bring about real construction jobs and investment. In the long term, it is about a fundamental chance for thousands and thousands of young people to rebuild their lives.

Environmental Renewal: Re-greening our cities and Improving Air Quality

I couldn't finish - and my father wouldn't let me finish - without focussing on the environmental renewal still before us in each of our cities.

We are for the most part blessed by the foresight of our forebears. Our cities have open spaces and wonderful parks. Our ancestors, such as Faulkner and Batman who planned Melbourne's tree-lined boulevards, those who laid out Centennial Park and the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, and Colonel Light with his plan for Adelaide's ring of parks, deserve even greater recognition than they have received.

Life is better for millions because of the parks, gardens and trees they imagined into being. Today, every child instinctively knows that a natural park is cooler than a car park.

So as our cities inevitably expand, we owe it to our descendants to make the same provision for their recreation as our ancestors made for ours.

In Melbourne, we are committed to creating a truly great Point Cook Park - using existing public land - in conjunction with the Victorian Government. The West deserves a grand coastal park to celebrate for now and the next century.

More broadly, we will sponsor 20 million trees being planted in and around our cities over the coming years.

At the next level, I would like to set the challenge for each of our cities to expand urban tree coverage by 10 per cent out till 2025. It is in the new suburbs that these trees are most necessary and most valuable.

At the very highest level, I would like to complete a National Clean Air Agreement by 1 July 2016. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that urban air pollution was responsible for more than 3000 early deaths in 2003. This is a critical national issue and I would like it to be a signature objective of my watch.

Particle (as particulate matter) and ozone pollution levels are of particular concern, with peak particulate matter levels frequently exceeding the current national air quality standard in most of Australia's metropolitan areas.

Urbanisation and population growth, and the associated increases in transport demand and energy consumption, will likely result in increased emissions and poorer air quality despite the current air quality management frameworks in place.

A National Clean Air Agreement, currently under negotiation, could reduce air pollution and manage emerging air quality issues through cooperative action at the national, state and local level. Governments and key stakeholders including industry could work strategically together towards common goals under the Agreement.

By agreeing to future air quality standards and measures, we can chart a course to cleaner air over the coming years and decades.

More trees and cleaner air.

I know someone who might have agreed.

Conclusion

And so we turn to the end.

But not all endings are sad. Until December Dad lived at home, in Mornington, in the house which he had loved and lived in for almost 50 years.

He retained his complete awareness of the world until his last days. Until the very end he was actually caring for others.

Over his last few weeks he said goodbye to each of his sons. In doing so he took care of each of us. He explained that he was ready to die, that he had been blessed in his life and that he had no fears. He said farewell and took care of each of my brothers Steve and Peter. Both spent much time with him in his last few weeks.

On his last Monday, when he declined further treatment, he held me and took care of me.

On the Wednesday, when he told my brother John his time was passing, Dad held John and took care of John.

On the Thursday, as he became increasingly frail, his brother David and Leila visited to say goodbye. On his last day he was surrounded by sons who read to him his beloved poems from Yeats and Byron, Shelley and the Prophet. But his favourites were Tennyson's Ulysses and perhaps, most of all, Coleridge's Kubla Khan. As my brother John read the words: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree," Dad cupped his ears to tell us he was listening, and to ask for more.

But there was one more thing. He had yet to say goodbye to his eldest son Bob. Bob drove overnight from Wyndham in NSW and arrived just after 3am. There, in the middle of the night, accompanied and cared for by his eldest son, he passed away.

In the words of Walter Savage Landor's, Dying Words of an Old Philosopher:

"Nature I loved and, next to nature, Art.
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life.
It sinks; and I am ready to depart."

In the manner of his passing, he embodied his life. An indomitable will. Immense love for his family. Joy at his place in the universe.

And always, a plan!

Greg Hunt

Connect

Subscribe

Media contacts

Minister's Office
02 6277 7920