This speech was delivered on 25/3/2014 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the original contribution here.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [7.10 p.m.]: When elected in 2011 the O’Farrell Government had a clear mandate to make new laws to return planning powers to the community. It promised to move New South Wales away from Labor’s corrupted planning laws and to forever bury Labor’s notorious part 3A of the planning Act. So how has it all gone so wrong that just three years after that election we now have a planning Minister who is rummaging around in the darkest recesses of Labor’s rotten planning laws to find powers he can use to deliver for developers through bypassing local communities and overriding local planning laws? In mid-2012, after 18 months of consultation including an excellent report from Tim Moore and Ron Dyer, the Government announced its direction for planning laws. It was a direction straight out of Labor’s pro-developer playbook.
When the O’Farrell Government eventually took the bill to Parliament, it was plainly unacceptable. It represented a spectacular breach of the Government’s promise to return planning powers to the community. The proposed laws would have systematically alienated the community from decision-making and made environmental, social and heritage considerations play second fiddle to the profits of developers in almost all planning matters. When the defective bill found its way to the upper House, The Greens worked with a majority of members in the Chamber to try to knock some of the most offensive elements from the Government’s bill. Those amendments did not by any means fix the bill, but they did provide some marginal improvements by removing the new code assessable development proposal, by inserting affordable housing provisions and by putting some balance back into applications for new or enlarged mines.
However, when the amended bill went back to the lower House, rather than engaging in discussions to improve the bill Minister Hazzard, in an emotive and angry speech, effectively walked away. It took real effort on the part of this Government to burn off so much community goodwill in the planning area in so short a time. The current impasse was clearly brought about by the poor management of the review and the reform process by Minister Hazzard and his department. Convinced that the Government would have the numbers to implement whatever final model they came up with, they ignored the results of their own consultation. In the end the Government produced a planning bill that only a property developer could love. Since November, the planning Minister has made a number of statements indicating that he intends to reform the system, in his words, “through the current laws”. They are Labor’s planning laws—and the worst parts of them at that.
Just how will the Minister abuse the existing laws to deliver his Government’s planning agenda? He has a number of undemocratic levers to hand, but his biggest one is to make changes to State environmental planning policies [SEPPs]. State environmental planning policies are instruments that the planning Minister can make at will. He simply signs a piece of paper and they become statewide laws that override any contrary local, regional or statewide planning instruments. The Minister can make State environmental planning policies to exclude certain classes of development from requiring development approval in the first place, to rezone entire areas for more intense development, or to remove local councils’ planning powers from an identified urban growth area. Best of all for a centralising and undemocratic government, the State environmental planning policies are not subject to any parliamentary scrutiny, with the upper House having no power to disallow them. And all at the stroke of a pen, with no requirement to consult and no democratic oversight!
They are the types of powers that keep the Independent Commission Against Corruption commissioners awake at night. They are the types of powers that send a cold chill through ordinary citizens. They are the types of powers that corporate scavengers and their accomplices in New South Wales politics love to keep on the books. The Minister already has abused those powers to expand the current State environmental planning policy for exempted complying developments to include whole new classes of development and degrade heritage protections, to rezone large swaths of the Epping Town Centre to deliver an urban activation precinct with oversize development, contrary to local environmental planning controls, and to deliver for the mining industry by amending the State environmental planning policy on mining, petroleum production and extractive industries so that when any new mining development is considered in New South Wales, the principal concern for any approval body is the size of the resource, not the impacts on the community or the environment. Who knows what this Government will do next?
We know that the Minister intends to impose urban activation precincts in Randwick and Ryde. Other options that no doubt the Government is considering are to amend State environmental planning policy 71 on coastal protection to remove restrictions on coastal development, to expand State environmental planning policy 60 on exempt and complying development to include larger and bigger impact developments, to remove or limit the State environmental planning policy 70 affordable housing provisions and to strip down State environmental planning policy 44 on koala habitat protection. The O’Farrell Government’s planning bill was exposed as a breach of its promise to return planning powers to the community. Now the Government has abandoned the bill, but it is still working to use the worst parts of Labor’s corrupted planning laws to deliver for the developer lobby. The people of New South Wales voted for something better. They deserve something better. The Greens remain committed to principled planning laws that would give the people of New South Wales what they deserve, not simply what the biggest developers demand. [Time expired.]