Image for Tasmanian Planning Policies Legislation – Minister Gutwein’s next power grab

The TCT said today that the Draft Tasmanian Planning Polices Bill 2017, recently released for public comment, proposes to provide the Minister for Planning Minister Peter Gutwein with almost total power over the drafting, making and amending of planning policies. The public comment period on the Draft Bill closed on Monday 15 May 2017.

The TCT’s primary concerns are that the Draft Bill proposes to grant the Planning Minister new powers:

1. To prepare planning policies without any guarantee that the public, councils or Tasmanian Planning Commission will see the draft policies or be consulted;

2. To choose whether or not to seek advice from the Tasmanian Planning Commission but, if he does, the Minister is not be obliged to adopt any of the TPC’s recommendations; and

3. To refuse or totally rewrite the policies, taking advice from any source that he sees as fit.

“This Draft Bill is a shameless power grab by Minister Gutwein and establishes a clear potential for future ministers to be improperly influenced,” said TCT Director Peter McGlone.

“It is bad enough that the Minister is creating these polices after having approved the State Planning Provisions, but he is wanting to grant himself almost total power to make policies.”

1. No guarantee of consultation

“Minister Gutwein’s draft legislation fails to guarantee that the Tasmanian public, local councils or the Tasmanian Planning Commission will see, let alone have input to, draft policies before they are finalised.”

“Section 12C(3) of the Draft Bill states that the Minister ‘may’ provide a draft policy to the TPC or not, and if he does not, then the TPC and the Tasmanian public would have no avenue to provide input on draft policies.”

Similarly, the legislation allows the minister to choose whether to provide draft polices to local councils or not.

“The proposed planning policies are meant to provide strategic direction and consistency for the Statewide Planning Scheme and should reflect the Tasmanian community’s interests.”

“Instead, Minister Gutwein wants to grant himself the power to dictate what he thinks is in the best interests of the community.”

2. Minister not bound to implement TPC’s recommendations

“Even if the Minister asks the Tasmanian Planning Commission to provide advice, the minister is not obliged to take on board anything that the TPC and public have to say.”

Section 12G(3)of the Draft Bill only requires the minister to ‘consider’ the report prepared by the Tasmanian Planning Commission, so there is no check on the Minister’s powers to make planning policies. 

3. Minister’s powers to refuse or rewrite the draft policies

“In the final stage of the process, the minister has extraordinary powers to seek advice from whomever he wishes and totally re-write the policies.”

Section 12G(1) of the Draft Bill allows the Minister to inform himself/herself ‘in the manner he or she thinks fit’. A minister could, for example, seek advice from particular corporations with vested interests, such as property developers, foreign governments or the minister’s own relatives.

Section 12G(2) of the Draft Bill states that the minister may make, refuse to make or modify the Tasmanian Planning Policies ‘as the Minister thinks fit’. This means that, subject only to a requirement to publicly explain the reasons for making changes, the Minister could potentially rewrite the policies so they do not resemble the draft shown to the public, councils and TPC.

“These provisions create the potential for ministers in the future to be inappropriately influenced and to create policies that are totally different from those the public, councils and the TPC have commented on.”

What the TCT has recommended to the State Government

The TCT has recommended that the state government abandons it’s Draft Bill and instead works with the Tasmanian community to develop a comprehensive suite of State Policies through the existing process established under the State Policies and Projects Act.

If the state government persists with its flawed legislation, then it must restart the consultation process and provide a greatly revised version of the legislation for public comment, removing the excessive ministerial powers.

The Draft Bill must be amended to:

- Guarantee that the public, councils and the Tasmanian Planning Commission have an opportunity to make comment on the Draft Polices;

- That the Minister is required to adopt the recommendations of the Tasmanian Planning Commission but, if he wishes not to, that the final policies must be approved by the parliament;

- Remove the provisions that grant the minister powers to seek advice from whomever he wishes and to refuse or amend the policies as he sees fit.

*Peter McGlone is Director of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust

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