Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2142..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
powers to be used in exceptional circumstances have become with Mr Smyth powers that are used as part of the normal development approval process.
In October 1999, Mr Corbell and I introduced private members bills to address this issue. I proposed that the call-in powers be simply abolished. The Greens believe that the government cannot have it both ways. It cannot have an independent planning commissioner and an established appeals mechanism through the AAT, and ultimately the Supreme Court, to deal with contentious developments and then override this process when it suits the government. A developer's preference to fast-track their proposal for their own benefit is not sufficient reason for the government to override legitimate community concerns about the impact of such a development on the surrounding physical, social and economic environment.
Mr Corbell voiced similar concerns about these call-in powers, but did not want to abolish them. In his bill, he specified criteria for the circumstances in which the minister could exercise the call-in powers and included a requirement that the minister table in the Assembly a statement which explained why the call-in powers were used. I did not support this bill as I thought that the criteria he suggested were too broad. The criteria referred to applications that raise a major issue of policy, have a substantial effect on the achievement of the objectives of the Territory Plan, or would give rise to a substantial public benefit. These criteria can be used, and have been used, to justify almost any development. Of course, the minister's justifications can never be challenged by anyone else as his decision is final. However, the government supported the bill and it was incorporated into the land act.
My impression was that the minister supported the bill because he realised that the bill was so weak that it would not change how he used the call-in powers. I think that has been proven. The use of the call-in powers has continued unabated; in fact, it seems to have increased in recent months. The Lyneham tennis centre project and the Latham shops redevelopment are the latest controversial uses of the call-in power. Therefore, my bill is really directed at members of the Labor Party. I think that they need to admit that their amendments to the call-in powers have been ineffectual and need to be strengthened. Whilst I would prefer that the call-in powers be just abolished altogether, if members of the ALP do not want to go that far, I believe that my bill today which provides that the call-in powers be disallowable deserves their support.
I am concerned that, regardless of the criteria that the ALP puts in the act to define when call-in powers can be used, the critical point remains that, once the minister makes a decision to use his call-in powers, it currently cannot be revoked by the Assembly if it thinks that the decision was not justified. The only way that that can be addressed is by having the minister's decision to use the call-in powers a disallowable instrument. If a minister wants to take a development application out of the administrative realm and into the political realm through the use of call-in powers, he or she should expect to have that decision questioned by the Assembly. I am aware that this could create uncertainty and delay for a particular development proposal. The decision of the minister to call in an application would not be able to take effect until the six-day period for disallowance by the Assembly has passed. There is also the possibility that the Assembly will vote to disallow the call in, which means that the application would have to be referred back to the Commissioner for Land and Planning.