Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3975 ..
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (6.35), in reply: The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Amendment Bill 2002, as Mr Corbell has just stated, is a very important part of the government's planning reform package for the ACT. It is legislation administered by the department of justice. I acknowledge that it is, however, integral to the planning reform package that has been debated today, and I acknowledge that the development of this new planning appeals process has been very much a collaborative effort between the department of justice and PALM. I also acknowledge, as we all know, that leadership in the government's planning reform work has been taken by Mr Corbell. This is very much a project he has led.
As part of its election platform, Labor made a commitment to improving land planning and management in the ACT. We were aware that there were community concerns about aspects of the planning appeals process. Some of the concern was that the hearing of planning appeals was too cumbersome and costly for ordinary people exercising their rights to challenge administrative decisions about planning matters.
The changes made by this bill come out of consultation the government undertook in determining how best to meet its commitment. After consultation with planning and building professions and community groups, it was clear that, although reform of the planning appeals process was necessary, there was cross-sector agreement that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was the most appropriate forum to deal with planning appeals.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has an existing land and planning division. This bill includes measures to streamline procedures in that division. Lengthy and expensive delays are what cause parties to planning appeals most concern. This bill is designed to ensure that planning appeals are moved through the appeals process with speed and efficiency.
Legislative changes will be complemented by improved resources. Additional tribunal members with expertise in the planning, building and heritage industries will be appointed. This will allow three members, two with expertise in the subject matter, to sit on most planning appeals. In addition, qualified mediators will be engaged by the tribunal to reduce the number of matters that go to a formal hearing.
The bill introduces a positive obligation on the AAT to consider whether a matter before it can be resolved by mediation. Although the tribunal already has the power to mediate matters before it, there is no obligation to consider whether mediation is appropriate in any matter.
The bill introduces a time limit of 120 days for completion of planning appeals. The president of the tribunal will be given a discretion to extend time so that there is flexibility where complex matters, particularly on heritage issues, are being considered.
The bill introduces the concept of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal awarding legal costs against a party to an appeal. As Mr Corbell has just indicated, the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, in its scrutiny report, expressed concern about the provision giving power to the tribunal to award costs. The notion of costs being awarded by the AAT against an unsuccessful party in all cases is not favoured. As a general rule, it is