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Architects Amendment Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Tags: Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, the Greens are happy to support the amendments in this bill. We agree it is time to modernise an act which is over 90 years old. Some of these things are well overdue, for example gender-appropriate language. It seems arcane that we are still having to adapt legislation but there it is. It goes to show how recently the changes have been made in terms of equality between the sexes and the normality of having women in places like parliament, not to mention as architects. How times have changed for the better.

The contribution of architects to all societies is invaluable and mostly hidden and unappreciated. There is a real misunderstanding about the contribution of architecture to the experience of living in the lived environment. The role that an architect plays, or can play, in stitching together a community so that without even being aware, people come to live in a way which is more harmonious and more conducive to engagement between people, interactions between people. There is more exposure to the natural environment, there are better buildings that provide healthier living environments, streetscapes which are healthier in both hot and cold climates. All of these things are matters that an architect would attend to.

Fundamentally, architecture is a branch of the arts. It was always the creative art and it was the highest form of art. Michelangelo was a person who was gifted in every area, in maths and in sculpture and in architecture and in painting, in so many different places. Architecture has always been understood to contribute a special role. In modern times it bridges science and art. It is fundamentally creative at its best and it is fundamentally utilitarian and mechanical at its worst.

We see all sorts of architects, like in any profession. But the best of architecture provides us with the cities that people go to visit proactively; cities like Paris, which has a building height limit in the middle of Paris of five storeys. That fact alone has meant that the Eiffel Tower stands out. It has meant that it gives us a uniformity to the landscape which is not homogenous and boring because the beauty of the buildings makes each one stand out. It is a human scale city and it is something that people in Hobart and Launceston desperately want to hang on to. We want a human scale city. We want a city which does not try to dominate kunanyi/Mt Wellington; that does not try to dominate the natural systems around us which we all love living here, to absorb and appreciate, and they affect every part of our life.

The design of cities, the places that humans live their lives, where we wake up in the morning, where we go to work, where we care for our children and old people, these places where we die, where we end up being buried and visited into the future by people who loved us. These are the places that architects fundamentally design so they are a very important part of our community, whether we are aware of their influence or not. The best of architects will create spaces that people do not feel the effects of but they experience the effects of them. A well-designed building can make people calmer and it can definitely reduce mental health problems, anxiety and depression. All of these things are fundamentally connected to the built environment that is designed for human living.

We do support the changes in modernising the act. I do not have any particular points or questions to make about them. They are reasonable. I want to make the point - and it is not something which any of us here can change - but it is concerning that we live in a time when professions are required to take out professional indemnity insurance. As sole operators or small operators, the insurance that is required when it is undertaken by private firms can be so exorbitant you really have no possibility of competition in that marketplace. The fees are so enormous. We all want to reduce risk, and we understand why that is there. But here we are in 2020 and unwittingly we have created an environment that makes it incredibly expensive to build a house, incredibly expensive to manage the risk, because we have outsourced to the private sector all the risks of design and building.

We used to have a system where these things were managed by councils or by other authorities, and so there was not a place for an untethered private marketplace which can exact enormous costs. It has to be passed on through the professional architect or building surveyor to people who are building homes.

At the end of the day, we all pay for those costs. It would be a better model if councils took back the responsibility for building certification. It would be a better model if these things were not adding enormously to the costs of building homes and designing good homes. It should not be only the province of people who are well-to-do to have well-designed houses.

I will talk a bit about the minister's opening statements about the role of architects providing professional services in connection with the planning and design, construction, conservation, restoration or alteration of buildings. That really misses the contribution, whether the minister meant that or not - I am sure you do not - but the contributions of the buildings to the creation of the community and to the experience of living in the community. I have already mentioned the experience of living in different communities that are well designed. Paris is one that people often refer to.

What we lost in Tasmania was the Office of the State Architect. The Office of the State Architect, the funding for that position for the previous state architect, Peter Poulet, was lost during the global financial crisis cuts with the Labor-Greens government. It was a mistake that it was not reinstituted.

The Greens have put the reinstatement of the Office of the State Architect into our alternative budget for six years now. It should be on the Government's head that it has never prioritised $250 000 per year - as it was in 2011 - for the Office of the State Architect. This is despite the Premier, as Treasurer, having said that the state was back in the black for at least four years now. This is a huge loss for Tasmania and it is a loss at time when we need that expertise and oversight.

The Office of the State Architect had the role of advocating for quality design and built outcomes across the state. The office provided strategic and independent advice to the government about planning, urban design architecture and heritage.

The office was responsible for creating the shared vision between the state agencies, intrastate agencies, and stakeholder groups, including the community, about the built environment. The State Architect was responsible for developing best practice guidelines on sustainable urban environments and buildings.

It was the State Architect who developed sustainable living design guidelines that were used - and I assume are still used - to guide the building of housing developments in Tasmania. They were used under the Greens housing minister. They created an important pattern for how we should be greening the environment and creating a people-centred community, places within subdivisions and buildings.

The point is that under this government, we have not reverted to anything like good quality urban design at the overarching level. We cannot rely on the Building Code of Australia combined with the Tasmanian Planning Scheme to give us anything more than a utilitarian landscape. That is what we have. This is what we have ground ourselves down to. You only have to look at new subdivisions anywhere in Tasmania. They are all identical. Can anyone put their hand up and tell me if they can remember seeing a different subdivision? The north-west, down in Kingborough, on the east coast, the eastern shore - they are all the same.

Do you think that is the way it is when you travel around Tasmania? It is not because I travel around Tasmania, we all do, and every single different part of Tasmania is a different place. It has different characters, it has different buildings, it has different streetscapes, it has whole different layouts, but the modern subdivision, as is the only thing councils can approve under the Tasmanian Planning Scheme, is a tick-a-box, one-size-fits-all, grey uniformity, which does not lead to people being able to live the happiest lives that they can.

We know this. There is ample evidence about the dark impact of uniformity, of landscape, of identical types of buildings. All of these things have a negative effect on people in terms of rates of depression and anxiety, and we know more than ever now the importance of nature and greening the spaces we live in. The evidence is overwhelming from around the world that in a housing development or a housing development tower, the people who can see green grass have fewer violent episodes, reported police offences and lower rates of depression than people who can only see concrete from their area. This is a really stark indication, it is that extreme. Even being able to see green grass is better for your mental health than just being able to see concrete, so we must be looking at how we design for the future, not just for people's mental health but for people's physical health.

We are confronting extreme heating changes with global climate heating, and I did some work myself 25 years ago for the Commonwealth Department of Health on the impact of climate heating on the urban landscape. The heat island effect was only being described back then, but we know very clearly, and it has been documented around the world, that unless we are literally building in spaces to grow trees in a landscape, we will be missing out on the evapotranspiration that trees provide us. They are what can keep us safe in heat waves. Being near greenness is a cooling and the evapotranspiration of trees is something that we need to be mandating the new subdivisions. I certainly do not see that when I drive around the new subdivisions in Tasmania.

Where has this expertise gone? Where is this overarching expertise in urban planning that could be being provided by an Office of State Architect? Although we have the City Deal and the major councils in Hobart working together, we do not have an overarching State Architect who is looking at urban design from a bigger picture than an individual council perspective. This is more than about planning schemes and lining up roads and services. This is about how we create cities so they are healthy places for us to live.

The major projects bill which was tabled today and will be coming to parliament at some point in the near future is yet another building block which has been smashed out of the good foundation of planning in Tasmania. This Government has done so much to unpick the planning scheme and its functionality in the last six years.

The major projects bill is really just crossing a line in the sand in terms of our ability to be able to look to the issues that people in communities love and to be able to make sure we attend for that so we are not just constantly ushering in the biggest, cheapest and, frankly, some of the most controversial developments in the state. These are the things the major projects bill will do and it does not advance us as a state to be taking the quick and fast approach to major developments that are controversial. These of all things must be looked at in more detail, not less, because the bigger a development is, the more that we need to do that. These developments would be here for decades and we need to be looking at how we focus our resources so that they lead to happy and healthy communities and we protect the natural environment which supports us into the future.

We would really like to hear from the minister about whether the Office of the State Architect is something the Government is going to be looking to reinstate in the forthcoming Budget. I would have thought with the conversations about the importance of a COVID-led building recovery that this is exactly the time to be putting the resources into the Office of the State Architect to provide that oversight, expertise and independence. There is nothing to be afraid of about independent professional views. That is something to be welcomed because with such a hopefully big building we must be looking at the impacts of climate change in that but we must also be looking at the effect of building on mental health and community resilience, because that is what great architecture can provide for us.