Page 722 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 8 April 2014

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The second element of this bill is the provisions which allow the executive to declare certain development proposals as projects of major significance to the territory.

Under these provisions there would be no third-party merit review by ACAT and no AD(JR) Act appeals to the Supreme Court. Once again, the only remaining appeal mechanism would be through costly common law appeals, which would be time-limited to within 60 days of the development application being approved. Once again, the government would be removing the ability of affected Canberrans to appeal the approval of a project about which there might be significant concerns.

Special precinct variations and project of major significance declarations will be made by disallowable instrument. This means that technically the Assembly can overturn the minister’s decision to declare a special precinct or a project of major significance. In his presentation speech the minister stated:

This key feature ensures that the government priority is fully examined and critiqued by the elected representatives of the community before it is put into effect. This bill is, in this sense, first and foremost about transparency and accountability for key priority government projects.

This all sounds noble. However, no-one should have any confidence in this supposed safeguard because, as we all know, the government has a majority in the Assembly. Therefore, the Assembly scrutiny would be somewhat limited. This means that variations will not be disallowed. This supposed transparency and accountability are just words. Even when the government does not have a majority, there is very little chance that a variation will be disallowed.

In the last few days we have seen comments from Mr Rattenbury that he supports the government on this legislation. Presumably he supported it in cabinet, too, because he went public to say that he did support it. This is a man who previously wanted to allow anyone, even an organisation that was not remotely linked to a project, to be able to appeal against a development approval. Mr Rattenbury is now happy to go along with the government to remove appeal rights for even those directly impacted by projects. Mr Rattenbury is happy to give the government all this power now. Can Canberrans have any confidence that he will be willing to disallow the government’s variations or projects in the future? In this bill we have the government giving itself the power to approve any projects it likes without any real scrutiny.

The Planning Institute has observed that the legislation might be used for controversial and political projects, perhaps putting the politics into planning. The president of the institute commented:

If a government had an absolute majority it could use the assembly to railroad through things that an individual Minister might have more difficulty with.

The third element of this bill is the ability for a proponent to lodge a development application that applies a draft territory plan variation. This means that in-principle approval could be given to an application before the relevant territory plan variation became operational. This is designed to save the proponent from waiting for the

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