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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3972 ..

MRS DUNNE (continuing):

In this territory there are many occasions when development proposals which, generally speaking, have wide support and are innovative and have much to commend them to the community are held up in the AAT by what could only be considered vexatious appeals. It is very simple for one member of the community who says, "I am not really happy with this" to go to the AAT. It is their right, but at the same time it is very simple for them to go to the AAT, pay their lodgment fee and at little cost to themselves, except their time, hold up a substantial development application which may have already involved the expenditure of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The process is such that an individual can cause havoc. Every issue that is raised by that individual has to be addressed by the proponent. The proponent usually brings in the full panoply of lawyers and specialist. They have to do this because they have already made a considerable investment and they cannot put that investment at risk. This process has been very enervating for planning in the ACT. It is not conducive of resolution of planning issues. The opposition believes that it might be time we introduced the concept of awarding costs against a complainant who takes a frivolous matter to the AAT.

While there is much to commend what is being proposed, this bill is part of a package which is generally not supported by the opposition. But there are aspects of this bill that will be supported.

MS DUNDAS (6.24): This bill alters the structure of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to insert a dedicated planning and land division. The ACT Democrats broadly support this measure. The creation of a separate section of the tribunal will allow for better management of planning disputes and allow for better facilitation of decisions and outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, I have a number of concerns with the details, particularly the insertion of a new power to award costs in planning cases. The scrutiny of bills report also brought up this issue. This is in conflict with other sections of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I foreshadow that when we get to the detail stage I intend to oppose this provision.

MS TUCKER (6.25): During my time in the Assembly I have taken a keen interest in the appeals system for development approvals because I think it is essential for good planning to have strong checks and balances on the discretion currently exercised by the planners. The AAT is usually the last hope residents have of stopping or modifying a development approval they object to. Residents do not take up an appeal lightly, as it can be quite an intimidating and expensive process. They generally feel that it is a burden they could do well without. It involves making time to attend hearings and doing research into the application decision and the relevant sections of the Territory Plan. Many people seek legal assistance because they are so unfamiliar with the process. It is therefore very important that both sides to the appeal, particularly residents who are not experts in the planning system, be treated equally and fairly.

This bill maintains the AAT as a forum for resolving planning appeals, but through a separate land and planning division. The bill attempts to speed up and streamline the process, firstly, by setting a time limit of 120 days to decide appeals and, secondly, by encouraging mediation between the parties instead of going straight to a formal tribunal hearing. The bill also gives the AAT the power to order costs against a party that contravenes a tribunal direction.

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