A Greens motion to revoke planning amendments for Apple’s highly controversial store at Federation Square has been resoundingly defeated in the Victorian Parliament.
The motion was brought forward by state Greens leader Dr Samantha Ratnam, and called on the Legislative Council to revoke the planning amendments for the store that were approved by planning minister Richard Wynne without a public notice.
The Victorian government announced late last year that it had signed a contract with Apple for the global tech giant to build a “flagship” store at Federation Square, which would involve the demolition of the existing Yarra Building.
The plan has been highly controversial, with criticism centring on privatising the public space in Federation Square, and the lack of public consultation over the plan. The City of Melbourne earlier agreed to support the Greens’ motion after receiving over 800 submissions from the public against the store.
But espite two Liberal MPs criticising the government over the plan, and one saying it was a “bad decision” that would “destroy Federation Square”, the state opposition sided with the government on the matter. It was voted down 34 to 4.
The Apple flagship store at Federation Square is now likely to go ahead.
In her speech in support of the motion, Dr Ratnam said the level of secrecy by government was a core issue.
“Secret meetings and secret agreements are a dangerous path to decision-making,” Dr Ratnam said.
“The Greens will fight to ensure people have the opportunity to be involved in decisions like this. The way the government has made this decision is one of the biggest reasons why we are here debating that it be revoked,” she said.
The Greens leader also criticised the placement of a global tech giant in the city’s main civic space.
“Are we really to believe that in a city like Melbourne the only option is to sell Fed Square off? We can do better than this. Labor has once again shown its contempt for Melbourne by doing a deal in secret with a multinational organisation without telling the public,” she said.
“The Labor government is failing in this area, and outsourcing problems to multinational organisations. How much has to be sold off until there is nothing left?”
Innovation minister Philip Dalidakis was the only member of the government to speak in support of the store. He spoke for nearly one hour, mostly on original Federation Square architect Donald Bates’ support for the Apple flagship store.
He also said that having one of only two Apple flagship stores in the southern hemisphere will be to the benefit of the local tech sector and general public.
“We will be the only such global flagship store in the southern hemisphere, second outside of the US and that’s an amazing opportunity for us to speak of our tech sector and our growing importance among the tech community. We can be a beacon of light onto others,” Mr Dalidakis said.
Mr Dalidakis also spoke to how the Apple store would help to connect Fed Square with the nearby Yarra River precinct and the benefits to the hospitality offerings already based in the space.
“We have an opportunity here to be able to support the development, support the creation, support the returning of public space, and the opportunity to bring two million plus more visitors into Fed Square that will enliven the other tenants, support other activities, create an additional opportunity for Fed Square to live up to what has become a much loved meeting place,” he said.
Two opposition MPs spoke on the motion, with shadow planning minister David Davis agreeing that the store would positively “activate” Fed Square and that the Apple brand was valuable to the state.
But Mr Davis slammed the government over its handling of the matter, saying it made a difficult situation much worse”.
“The government has botched the process and I hold the government to account for the debacle that has occurred with this outcome here,” he said.
“But I don’t though believe that we can entirely base this on the government’s mistaken process here, it is a matter that the state’s interest is also important.”
Opposition MP and shadow minister for investment Craig Ondarchie was more critical of the plans, saying that he does not support it.
“The Daniel Andrews Labor government is looking to destroy all we hold dear about Fed Square. Under the cover of Christmas, the planning minister used powers to gift a parcel of land to Apple,” Mr Ondarchie said
The decision was made without public consultation and without the necessary transparency that this decision needs,” he said.
“The destruction of the people’s place at Fed Square is due to start after the state election. I think this is a bad decision.”
But the Opposition voted against the motion regardless.
The state Greens have said that they will continue to fight the plans.
“This fight isn’t over, we’ll continue building public support to show the Andrew’s government exactly how unpopular this decision is,” Greens member for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said.
“We wouldn’t build a Coles supermarket at the NGV or a Bunnings in the Botanic Gardens, so why are we letting Apple take over our public square.”
“The Andrews Labor government rammed through planning changes to get this deal done just days before Christmas. It needs to go back to the drawing board and work with the community to find a more appropriate place in the CBD for the Apple store.”
Dr Ratnam said the decision was a “failure” of the government.
“If the government wants to fundamentally change Melbourne’s premier public space, they need to involve the community, not sell our public space to the highest bidder,” she said.
“Melbourne is a creative, cultural city; this plan to let a multinational take over our public square shows a complete lack of imagination by this Labor government.”