12 March 1991 - Current
GEOGRAPHIC PLACE NAMES BILL Second reading Debate resumed from 26 February; motion of Mrs TEHAN (Minister for Conservation and Land Management). Ms GARBUTT (Bundoora) -- The opposition does not oppose the bill, which has two main aims -- firstly, to change the way places are named and the process that is gone through before a place can be named and, secondly, to change the way place names are registered and made available to the public and other interested parties. The bill is important in its own right because place names are important to the community. We need clear, unambiguous references for communicating and identifying locations. We need it in many fields -- transport, communication, services, commerce, local government and so on -- and as individuals travelling around. These days with interstate and global travel and communications we need great accuracy and consistency. The process over the years since settlement has been haphazard and we now have confusion and duplication. I am told that there are 55 Stony Creeks in Victoria alone. An honourable member interjected. Ms GARBUTT -- Including one in Footscray. There is probably a Stony Creek for every honourable member. I do not know how many Railway Parades and Main Streets there would be scattered throughout the towns of Victoria. Mrs Tehan -- And High Streets. Ms GARBUTT -- There would probably be a High Street in every town and suburb in the state. We are stuck with those sorts of situations, we have inherited that, but we have to map them and locate them extremely accurately these days. The bill is important to the community because names preserve our heritage. They tell of our culture, our history, the state and the people. Names are often used symbolically to reflect our historic events. The name Victoria, for example, came into being only upon separation from the Colony of New South Wales, and it was an event of great occasion. We have seen the government recognise the importance of names. For example, when the Premier changed the name of the National Tennis Centre in Flinders Park to Melbourne Park I suspect it was an attempt to put his stamp on the National Tennis Centre, which was built by the Cain government. We see those sorts of important cultural and historic references throughout our communities and for that reason, as well as others, it is important to get the names and locations accurately. Naming places and mapping them has been done on a very ad hoc basis over the years. Initially it was done by the Governor and more recently by local government. It was not until the Survey Co-ordination Act was passed in 1958 that many of the different roles of surveying, naming, mapping, registering the names and publishing the maps were drawn together. That is the act this bill will amend. The act established the Place Names Committee, which had the job of naming places around the state. The committee consisted of seven members. They were not appointed by the minister or the Governor in Council; their positions were nominated in the act. Section 24 gives us their positions: one had to be the Surveyor-General, who was the chairman; one had to be the Chief Drafting Officer of the Department of Property and Services, or his nominee -- we no longer have the Department of Property and Services, let alone a Chief Drafting Officer; one had to be the Surveyor and Chief Draftsman of the Office of Titles, or his nominee -- I think that office and position have probably gone the way of the others; and one had to be the Secretary for Planning and Environment, or his nominee. There were three others who were not public servants.
One had to be a person appointed by the Governor in Council on the nomination of the Municipal Association of Victoria; one was to be appointed on the nomination of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria; and the third was appointed on the nomination of the Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs. Those persons represented various bodies and had various constituencies they had to respond to and various points of view they had to represent. The bill will abolish that committee. In recent years the naming of our local streets, roads and features has been done by local government. The authority has been delegated to councils. They select the place names and refer the names back to the Place Names Committee. Councils go through a process of consultation with the public and consider any objections or suggestions and then make their recommendations to the committee. Other bodies have rights to name various features, not least the State Electoral Commission, which names our electorates. Vicroads has significant naming power, as do many other bodies. Other changes that have led to the introduction of the bill include technological changes. The development of the Internet allows us to present information in different ways and enables a greater number of people to have access to the information. It is considerably easier to update and locate the information. In recent times we have seen the use of that technology by various organisations wishing to have accurate, up-to-date place names. Most notably this has been evident with the emergency services, particularly the ambulance, fire brigade and police. They have turned to technology to provide them with fast access to accurate maps and information. Unfortunately, accompanying that lately we have had the Intergraph scandal where the provision of inaccurate information has led to disastrous outcomes with ambulances going to the wrong addresses and the wrong streets, leaving people to wait for appalling lengths of time. If the bill will help to eliminate that sort of problem, it is to be welcomed. I turn first to changes to the way places are named. Clause 5 provides for geographic names policy guidelines which the Governor in Council, on recommendation of the minister, will publish in the Government Gazette. The guidelines will set out the rules and process to be followed in selecting or amending a place name; set out the process to be followed for selecting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander name; specify the criteria for the assessment of cultural heritage or other significance; set out the requirements for consultation before the name of the place is selected; and may specify any other things necessary in relation to the naming of places. The guidelines are crucial. They will be reviewed every five years. According to the minister's second-reading speech the intention is that local government and other delegated naming authorities will use these guidelines in choosing place names. Unfortunately the guidelines are not in the bill, so we are unable to assess them by looking at the bill. We have to rely on what was said by the minister in her second-reading speech and hold our breaths about what will be in the guidelines. In her second-reading speech the minister says the role of local government will be enhanced by this process, but after I sent a copy of the bill and the minister's speech to the Municipal Association of Victoria it expressed concern because the bill is not clear about the role of local government. I ask the minister to note the response of the MAV. Rob Spence, the CEO, states: While you have suggested the bill will give local government greater responsibility for naming local places, that is not immediately obvious from the contents of the bill ... The current powers of councils simply enable the council to approve, assign or change the name of the road (or street) and then advise the Place Names Committee of what has been done. This bill proposes in clause 23 that clause 5(2) of schedule 10 of the Local Government Act be altered to require that the council must act in accordance with the guidelines in force for the time being under the geographic names policy guidelines and the definition of 'place' (clause 3) includes 'streets' and 'roads'. Their responsibilities are included in the bill and a council must act in accordance with the guidelines. He further states: The impact of the bill in respect of councils is therefore contradictory in the sense that the lack of effect detailed in clause 4(b) is quite contrary to the change proposed to be effected through clause 23 which removed councils' unfettered powers in the case of road names and subjects councils to complying with the guidelines to be published by order in council on the recommendation of the minister. He concludes with the request that I ask the minister to note: I suggest that it is most important that undertakings be obtained from the government to ensure that local government is not fettered in its road naming activities and have asked the minister for such an undertaking. I ask the minister to clarify the position and give that undertaking to the MAV -- that is, that its role of naming streets and roads and passing the
recommendations to the present Place Names Committee will not be compromised because of this legislation. Bills do not always contain information; local government does not have the guidelines which are crucial for a proper understanding of the bill. Clause 12 establishes the Geographic Place Names Advisory Committee whose members will be appointed by the minister from people with the appropriate background expertise, described in the second-reading speech as being drawn: ... from the fields of mapping/geography, land information data management and service provision, local government, Aboriginal culture and language, orthography and linguistics, and heritage and history. Those qualifications and expertise are similar to the qualifications and expertise of members of the existing Place Names Committee. Somebody with local government expertise could be the same person nominated for appointment to the present board by the MAV. However, a person may not necessarily be somebody who that body would approve of or find represented its interests or reported to it on what is happening. That person may not be appointed as a representative of the MAV's interests. His or her skills may be similar but his or her views could be different. The new committee will be a more centralist body and its members will be appointed by the minister rather than be appointed by and to represent the present various interested bodies. According to the second-reading speech, the bill gives the minister a 'clearer power' to 'name places that are of a special character or significance'. The bill says anything can be referred to the committee. In the second-reading speech the minister states: The panel will be convened as required to comment and advise on the naming of places or features which cross local or regional boundaries ... The minister talks about not getting a clear opinion from a local government body or when a place has a special character or has an affiliation with a wider group of Victorians. However, none of that is in the bill. Such provisions could have been included instead of giving a blanket authority to the minister to refer anything to the committee. The minister could decide, for example, that a local road has some significance. The bill gives widespread authority to the minister to name things; the minister's authority depends on the guidelines, which are not included in the bill, and the guidelines will ultimately be decided by the minister. Those guidelines will not be scrutinised by Parliament. The second aspect of the bill concerns the registration of place names. It establishes the position of Registrar of Geographic Names. The registrar will maintain a register. His or her functions are set out in clauses 8 and 11 -- namely, to keep and maintain a register, to advise the minister on the guidelines, to disseminate information on the guidelines, to monitor and review compliance with the guidelines, and to enter new names or amended names whether they be from local government, an individual or from the Geographic Place Names Advisory Committee. The register must be kept up-to-date. I am advised that the information on the register will be placed on the Internet as soon as possible so it is widely accessible to those interested in it. The state digital map base will be a fundamental tool. It, too, must be kept up-to-date, be accurate and available for those who need the information. The bill makes major changes to an important role. The opposition is concerned about the questions raised for the minister by the MAV. I hope the minister will address those concerns.