MATTERS OF INTEREST: Community Engagement Charter
June 6th, 2018
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I want to speak today about community participation in planning. As members will be aware, we spent a great many hours a few years ago debating new planning legislation—the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act. Under this new act, there is something called the Community Engagement Charter that is supposed to guide the way that citizens are engaged in the planning system. This charter was endorsed by the minister in April and this week it was considered by the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of parliament, which is the final stage of the approval process.
I went back to the Hansard of our debate on the planning legislation and this one clause, the Community Engagement Charter, when extracted, takes 25 pages of A4 paper. We had a lengthy debate on this topic. When it came to writing the charter, the State Planning Commission organised a range of processes, including workshops. They even engaged the people behind the citizens' jury to get some random citizens together to discuss what it was they wanted in relation to planning. I was invited to a couple of those meetings. I am not sure the organisers were entirely happy to have me there because I had to explain to people that the aspect of participation that they were most interested in was the one aspect they were not going to be consulted about.
Citizens want to be engaged at all levels in the planning process. They do not just want to be engaged at a preliminary, esoteric level when planning policy is being written. Most citizens want to engage on real life issues that affect them, their neighbourhoods, their communities and their environment. I make no criticism of the State Planning Commission for confining their Community Engagement Charter to consultation around planning policy because they play the cards they were dealt by parliament. I think they were dealt a dud hand.
I note that the Planning Commission also has the ability to independently advise the planning minister. I hope they take the opportunity to do that and to feed back to the minister that, overwhelmingly, citizens are not happy that their engagement, their consultation, will be limited only to planning policy and not to the most important aspect, which is development assessment. The actual decision-making process about what gets built where, that is when people want to engage. I am very disappointed that they are not going to have that right.
So why does the government insist on only letting people engage in planning policy rather than development assessment? The answer is very simple. It is a sop to the development industry. The industry wants this thing called certainty. What certainty is a euphemism for is that they do not want any surprises and they certainly do not want local communities turning up and raining on their parade. They do not want neighbourhood groups, citizens' associations, residents' and ratepayers' groups weighing in on their plans for development. The previous government, with the opposition, let this go through, and I think it is a very poor outcome.
The main criticisms of the Community Engagement Charter are, firstly, as I have said, that it does not engage citizens when they most want to be engaged, that is, in relation to development approval, but also it lacks enforceable standards. Even if, under the charter, they should have consulted with people or with a group of people and they do not, there is not anything much that you can do about it. You might be able to go to the Supreme Court, but that is a very long and expensive process.
The reason for me raising this issue now is that I am offering some unsolicited advice to the Liberal and Labor parties. I know they always welcome advice from the Greens but, so you are not taken by surprise, I am going to tell you that this is how it will play out: whenever there is a development in your constituency that is contentious or controversial and residents are up in arms and they rent out the local RSL hall or the town hall to hold a public meeting, any member of the Liberal or Labor party who goes along to those meetings and says, 'Dear residents, we feel your pain. We think it's terrible that you're not consulted about this development in your neighbourhood that will directly affect you,' I am hoping that I, or some other knowledgeable person, will be there to say, 'Don't believe a word they say.'
It was within the power of the Liberal and Labor party to have a genuine system of public engagement and public consultation and you squibbed it. You squibbed it when we passed the legislation and you have also squibbed the opportunity, through the statutory approval process, to get this right. The Greens will not be giving up on the rights of South Australians and we insist on putting people back into planning.
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