Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3974 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
The objectives of the ALP as set out in our pre-election policy were to make the planning appeals system more straightforward, less complex and intimidating, and certainly less costly. The focus on mediation is designed to achieve the objective of making it less costly but also the objective of making it less intimidating, particularly for those people who perhaps do not have much experience of appearing in these sorts of very formal and often very structured processes.
The government, as it outlined in its pre-election policy, also wanted expert members hearing matters that ultimately went to a full review. We believe the activation of a land and planning division of the AAT is the most appropriate mechanism of achieving this. It allows the government to appoint expert members to hear matters. So we will be looking to appoint members expert in heritage matters, planning matters and valuation matters so that we can get a good body of people hearing matters. We still need people with the requisite legal expertise to make sure that that there is procedural fairness and that legislation is interpreted responsibly. The government will be pursuing that vigorously if this legislation is passed by the Assembly.
The model we are implementing in this bill is strongly focused on the Tasmanian experience. I would recommend to members, if anyone is particularly interested in this, that they talk with people from Tasmania who were involved in the disputes mechanism in that state. They have seen a dramatic turnaround in the number of matters that go to formal appeal, and they have seen a dramatic change of culture in resolving matters through mediation. That has been achieved by placing a positive statutory obligation on the disputes-hearing tribunal to consider and to undertake mediation but also through a cultural change in the organisation hearing the dispute. I am keen to see that we do not simply rely on legislation to achieve that change but also communicate as a government and an Assembly our expectation, if we choose to pass this bill, of fewer adversarial hearings and more dispute resolution hearings in the AAT and its forums, rather than barristers at 60 paces, which has tended to be the outcome all too often in the territory.
This is an important part of the government's reform package. We believe it delivers real benefits to industry and the broader community. Industry wants certainty and wants clear timeframes when it comes to decisions on development applications. The community wants a friendlier process, one which they can engage in more easily and is less adversarial. Indeed, industry wants that as well. I am pleased to say that overwhelmingly the response to this very important bill from industry and from the community has been positive.
I have to take up one point raised by Mr Dunne. She raised whether or not costs should be awarded in a more rigorous way than is outlined in the legislation. Perhaps she should talk to her colleague Mr Stefaniak, who signed off on the scrutiny of bills report suggesting that there should be no provision for costs at all. Once again, there is some contradiction in the opposition ranks on this point.
We believe we have a reasonable compromise, one which still allows people to fully exercise their rights to a review and a appeal but also sends a clear signal that if people are simply engaging in appeals or seeking reviews to stall or delay a proposal there is the potential for costs to be awarded against them.