Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (25 May) . . Page.. 2144..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
(f) that the decision involved an error of law, whether or not the error appears on the record of the decision;
(g) that the decision was induced or affected by fraud;
(h) that there was no evidence or other material to justify the making of the decision;
(j) that the decision was otherwise contrary to law.
The removal of the government's bill from the purview of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act is an extremely serious and concerning matter. The Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, along with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act, ensures that the actions of government are fair and correct. The fact that the decisions are appealable to the AAT or Supreme Court means that the people of Canberra can have confidence that these decisions are made with due reference to the laws of the territory in a fair and reasonable way. These acts allow our citizens to have confidence in actions of their government.
However, the bill before us is designed to take away that confidence. This bill is designed to allow any improper, unreasonable or illegal decisions made in relation to Gungahlin Drive extension to be hidden from the people of the territory and kept away from any investigation. It means that if the government makes a wrong decision the ability to challenge that is made 10 times more complicated, to the point where it is almost impossible. This bill lets the government break existing laws and get away with it. This is a serious action to undermine the legitimacy of law in the ACT, and in particular its application to a major public development.
The ACT government requires a development approval for a whole range of planning changes, from a lease variation to putting up a backyard shed. Development approvals are also required for large projects such as the Gungahlin Drive extension, which has significant impacts on residential amenity and the environment. Which one does the Assembly believe should be open to review? If the Assembly passes this bill today it is saying that if a resident proposes to build a shed in their backyard their neighbour can take the matter through the AAT and Supreme Court but they cannot question a $100 million road that will affect thousands of people and hectares of public land. This is a ridiculous distortion of the law and any sensible person could tell that such a situation is not only ludicrous but also obviously unjust.
It is interesting that the intentions of this bill have been in the exact opposite direction in which the Planning Minister has previously been heading. In the Planning and Land Act passed by this Assembly the minister has divested himself of approval powers and instead moved them to the new ACT Planning and Land Authority. Accompanying the Planning and Land Bill, amendments were made to the AAT act to create a more professional and efficient Planning and Land Tribunal to deal with planning appeals. Amendments were made to at least make the use of call-in power more transparent by ensuring consultation with the Planning and Land Council. In short, there was a move to removing executive powers, including greater involvement and oversight and review mechanisms in planning decisions.
However, it now appears the worthy aims of that legislation are being ditched. It appears that the government is no longer interested in oversight and expertise and instead we should just centralise power within the executive and lock administrative and judicial review out of the system. In addition to eroding the role of judicial review mechanisms,