Legislative Council

Environment, Resources and Development Committee: Annual Report 2016-17

November 15th, 2017

Environment, Resources and Development Committee: Annual Report 2016-17

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to support the motion that the report of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee be noted. I have served on this committee for 12 years and, when the parliament is sworn in after the next election, I hope to be able to continue to serve. In the last year, as in all previous years, the main focus of the committee's work was planning. The committee considered a large number of development plan amendments, which are more commonly known in the community as rezoning proposals. We took evidence in relation to many of these and we made recommendations to the minister about several of them.

As well as exercising our reactive statutory responsibilities to review planning policy, we also took on a number of proactive issues. The biodiversity inquiry was the most important of these, and later today I will be bringing to a vote a bill that gives effect to one of the committee's key recommendations for a state biodiversity planning policy. I expect that that bill will have widespread support, and I hope that it will become law by the end of the year.

Another issue I want to raise in relation to the committee's work over the last year is our consideration of the minister's use of major development powers. Under the old Development Act, or even the new Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act, the committee has no formal role in major development declarations, and I think that is unfortunate. However, it does not mean that the committee cannot weigh in when it thinks that it is appropriate.

Members will recall that yesterday the planning minister made a statement to the House of Assembly that he was withdrawing his declaration of 19 April this year that certain aged-care facilities would be regarded as major developments and thereby be exempt from the objectives and principles of development control contained in the local planning schemes.

The declaration was the first time that section 46(1)(b) had been invoked since the Development Act 1993 came into operation. In short, it provided that certain aged-care facilities valued at over $20 million would be taken out of the hands of the Development Assessment Commission or the local council and gave decision-making power to the Governor, which effectively means the minister. As well as changing the decision-maker, it also removed appeal rights, rights of judicial review and, most importantly, it allowed the developer to bypass established planning policy in local development plans, including height limits.

I spoke at some length about this last month when I introduced a motion to the chamber, so I will not repeat what I said then, other than to say that the first three developments that were called in under this power at Glen Osmond, Norwood and Joslin all attracted considerable community opposition. The residents had a range of local concerns around amenity, overlooking, traffic management, overshadowing, heritage and other concerns. However, they were also dismayed that the minister would have given himself the power to approve nine-storey developments in two-storey zones. It was this aspect that really brought the planning system into ridicule and disrepute.

The role of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee in this matter is that we agreed to undertake a short inquiry into the issue, with evidence provided by neighbouring local residents, the developer (Life Care) and the planning department. At the conclusion of the evidence, the committee resolved to write to the planning minister urging him to do three things: abandon the major project declaration, give an early no to the three developments and embark on a proper process for planning for future aged-care requirements.

Whilst the minister did not specifically reference the committee's letter in his statement yesterday, he has now delivered on the first point, and that is a good outcome. Life Care has also conceded on the second point by withdrawing their three applications and resolving to go back to the drawing board and also back to the negotiating table with local residents. That too is a good outcome and I am delighted that Life Care has chosen to value its relationship with its neighbours, and I think that augurs well for the future.

We now await action on the third point: a proper process for planning for future aged-care requirements. Hopefully, this will begin in the new year but more likely after the election. Whilst it is not my call, I think that the Environment, Resources and Development Committee could play a useful role in that review. When discussing the role of the ERD Committee with the various residents groups, I made the point of reminding them that a standing committee of parliament could not actually force the government to do anything that it did not want to do; however, I always hoped that raising the issue of major development declarations in parliament would help common sense to prevail. I am glad it has. I am glad that the ERD Committee was able to help broker an outcome that both protects the rights of local residents but, just as importantly, helps protect the integrity of the planning system.

I do not want to get too dewy-eyed about the integrity of the planning system because it has a great many faults and very often delivers outcomes that are bad for the community, bad for business, bad for the environment and not in the long-term interests of South Australians. Nevertheless, I think the ERD Committee played a useful role in this current controversy and I have contacted the minister to thank him for his concession. I also want to put on the record my thanks to Life Care for agreeing to reconsider its proposals and for its commitment to more respectfully engage with their neighbours about future development proposals. I also want to thank again the three residents groups: Caring about Joslin, Oppose Glenrose Hi-Rise and Concerned Residents of Norwood for Compliant Development.

Having identified a good news story—and lest anyone think that I am going soft in my crusade for better planning laws—I also want to outline some of the frustrations I have with the ERD Committee. At the top of the list is the fundamental flaw in having an oversight committee of parliament that is under the effective control of the government. As a consequence, the committee has never brought a motion to parliament that is at odds with what the government wants.

Since the Development Act came into operation on 1 May 1993, the disallowance power of the ERD Committee has never been used to force a vote to disallow a change to planning rules. This is a function of the fact that the government controls the committee. There are six members of the ERD Committee and three of them are from the government. The Parliamentary Committees Act provides that the presiding member comes from the government benches and has both a deliberative and a casting vote. The rest, as they say, is history.

The other glaring fault is that the ERD Committee does not get involved in scrutinising planning instruments until after they have come into operation; in other words, after the horse has bolted, after the zoning change and after the developers have begun lodging their applications. Only then does the ERD Committee get to consider the planning changes. By then, it is too late to do anything. Even if the committee was not government controlled, it is far too late to seriously influence the outcome.

In many cases, the involvement of the committee is a complete waste of time and only serves to give false hope to the community and to local councils that see the committee as a last opportunity for a review and genuine scrutiny. Far too often this is a cruel hoax, and this situation must change. My advice to whichever party forms government after the next election is that the whole of the committee system needs to be reviewed.

In relation to the ERD committee, I am offering three reforms to start with. Firstly, give the committee real power to scrutinise planning policy. It is completely unacceptable that an oversight body has no real powers of oversight—it should not be a government-controlled committee. Secondly, provide that no changes to planning policy come into operation until after it has been considered by the committee. Giving planning policy changes to the ERD committee a month or so after the horse has bolted is not good enough.

Thirdly and finally, whilst I am on good terms with the current Chair of the committee, the consolation prize for one lucky government backbencher of an extra $33,000 in their salary, a dedicated government car and a dedicated chauffeur is completely at odds with public expectation. It is undeserved, unnecessary and a complete waste of well over $100,000 of taxpayers' funds. I commend the committee's report to the council.

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