In whose interest are the Government’s proposed new planning laws? Why are they being fast tracked?
To progress towards a better Tasmania, TAP into a Better Tasmania strongly recommends that the Local Government of Tasmania (LGAT) demand that the State Government’s planning review process be stopped to allow a full and proper input by the public and all Local Councils.
TAP into a Better Tasmania (TAP) is angered and alarmed about the State Government's plan to introduce legislation that will see Council involvement, and public consultation, being removed from Tasmania's planning processes; to be replaced by an executive decision-making process authorised by the Government Minister of the day.
In democracies, governments are elected by the people. Good governments act in the best interests of the people, with full and open periods of public consultation. We believe good government should also include a recognition of the value local councils have for their communities, and an acknowledgment of the importance local councils have in the broader democratic electoral system.
In the context of the proposed changes to Tasmania's Planning System, we ask LGAT to demand a halt to the review process to allow full and proper discussion and input, and to convey the following concerns to State Government.
TAP into a Better Tasmania is a politically non-aligned community group of 3000 members, that has grown out of the State Government's determined attempt to fast-track Gunns Ltd's proposed Pulp Mill, and the subsequent erosion of Tasmania's democratic process.
Some of TAP's concerns relating to this legislation include:
1. Inadequate time for public comment
Despite the significant changes that are being proposed less than three weeks has been allowed for public comment, one of which includes the Easter public holiday. Media attention has been minimal, possibly because media releases relating to the proposal have been few. This lack of public awareness about the proposed Planning System changes has resulted in very restricted opportunities for debate or comment in newspapers or the electronic media by either planning experts, or the public. This is both unjust and unfair considering the enormous impact this legislation will have on every Tasmanian. TAP believes more time must be made available for comment.
2. Minister’s new executive powers are excessive
TAP has grave concerns about any Minister having the power to ‘call in’ a project without a due and proper process that includes public consultation, and consideration for everyone in the community who may potentially be negatively affected by a development project.
3. High cost of secrecy
We question why there is no requirement for the Minister to make public any decisions that are made in relation to significant developments, and particularly Projects of Regional Significance. Transparency and its benefit, a social licence to proceed with the project, is lost under the new proposal.
4. Restricted rights of appeal
The severely limited opportunities for individuals to appeal planning decisions that may have adverse effects on them is undemocratic. Appeals may only be pursued through the Supreme Court on matters of law, and costs are prohibitive for the average citizen.
5. Coercion of local planning regulations
Under the proposed legislation the Minister can override existing local council planning laws, enabling a project to proceed even if council planners have deemed a project unsuitable. Local councils should not be forced to modify their own planning laws to comply with a potentially controversial, secretly assessed Government-backed development.
6. Restricted focus on economic benefits contravenes best practice planning
A comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of economic, social and environmental aspects of any proposed development is essential for good planning eg. the Equator Principles governing assessment by banks of project financing.
The proposed Planning System changes appear to focus on those projects the Government considers to be ‘economically beneficial’. An example of this flawed model is Gunns Ltd’s proposed Pulp Mill, a project that ignored social and environmental aspects, and failed to consider potential negative outcomes when it concluded the mill would deliver economic benefits for the region. [The detailed and independently prepared report for Tasmanian Round Table for Sustainable Industries Project, www.lec.org.au contradicted this view. Their report concluded the Pulp Mill would deliver an overall negative benefit to the Tamar Valley].
Assessments of Projects of Regional Significance must incorporate the social, environmental, and economic factors involved, as well as thoroughly considering the potentially negative outcomes likely to result from any proposed development.
TAP strongly opposes any decision that is based solely on potentially positive benefits.
7. Perception of bias
The Minister can ‘call in’ a project if he/she believes there is bias on the part of Council. There may in fact be good reason for taking a view on a project eg. problems involving pollution, adverse health effects, or social acceptability. Such a view can be seen as ‘biased’ from the Minister’s limited perspective.
8. Political donations
There does not appear to be any provision for questioning the Minister’s own bias. For example, the new planning proposal allows for a Minister to ‘call in’ a project if the proponent has previously donated, or is likely to substantially donate to election campaigns. Any review of the Planning System must ensure there is no potential for Ministerial bias to occur.
We question the purpose of attempting to introduce sweeping changes to Tasmania's Planning System in a secretive manner and without proper public input. In whose interest is it? The State Government, the proponent, local councils or the community?
We demand further time be granted for every Local Council to examine these changes properly, and the implications they will have for their own municipalities, and for proper public consultation and discussion to take place.
TAP strongly opposes any legislation that is perceived to undermine civil liberties. We are an active, politically aware organisation that has organised rallies in Hobart and Launceston to demonstrate our concerns over the flawed pulp mill and pipeline planning approvals procedure. Heightened community awareness and continuing community opposition has seen more than 21000 voters pledge not to vote for any candidate in federal, state or local council elections who supports the pulp mill.
We have already lobbied politicians and political parties on all levels of Government. We will do so again with this odious piece of proposed legislation.
To move towards a better Tasmania, TAP strongly recommends that LGAT demand that the planning review process be stopped to allow a full and proper input by the public and all councils.