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Land Use Planning and Approvals Amendment Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Tags: Planning, Major Projects, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, this bill seeks to make a whole suite of fixes and general improvements to the LUPA - land use planning and approvals - major amendments bill, which went through just over two years ago in this place. The major projects bill was vehemently opposed by a wide range of people in the Tasmanian community when it came through. People in Tasmania do not want their landscape and lifestyle changed by developments that would, in many instances, change it beyond recognition without having a proper say, a proper conversation, without transparency and accountability from people who are making the decisions.

We have a history in Tasmania, most recently from this Liberal Government, of laying out the red carpet for developers. People who have been watching the planning legislation landscape since this Government came to term in 2014 would understand the big damage that has been done to the opportunity for meaningful community engagement in the planning decisions that are made - local councils' statewide decisions about land, lifestyle, amenity and community, decisions that impact on our natural places. There has been a fundamental deterioration in the quality, accessibility and cost of appealing, or even making representations to processes that people used to have much more of a say in.

People hate special deals, they hate the siphoning of public money to corporate mates, they hate purpose-designed loopholes and fast-track laws. You only have to look at what happened with pulp mill legislation. Both the Labor and Liberal parties are in this together and have form.

The genesis of this legislation comes, in part, from the period after the 2014 state election when the Liberals appointed the former CEO of the Property Council to take on a hatchet job and create a Tasmanian planning scheme that was meant to be simpler, faster, and cheaper - and it is still not finished. We still do not have that planning scheme in place in Tasmania, and worse, even if it were in place, we have an erosion of the fundamental underpinning of good planning legislation, which is a proper opportunity for consultation with people who have skin in the game.

We have lost the ability for the community to have a meaningful say about developments that happen in public places. We now have weaker protections for the environment, for heritage, for amenity and local character. Let us face it, they were not good to start off with. We are in a much worse place.

In 2017, the then minister for Planning, Peter Gutwein, ignored the raft of recommendations from the Tasmanian Planning Commission about the changes that should be made before the Tasmanian Planning Scheme was created, recommendations that went to some of the foundations of that scheme. For example, what they said was the importance of improving the biodiversity information on which councils make decisions, the fact that there was not a stormwater code, the fact that Aboriginal heritage protections were manifestly inadequate.

All of these things, and many others, were ignored by the then planning minister, Peter Gutwein, because they would have been annoying for developers. They would have got in the way of what was a red carpet and a fast track for big development. However, has proven to be - across all of the planning schemes that have come in, and the interim planning schemes that are still there - a much more expensive, slower and painful process for small families and small business developers. It is now a nightmare of bureaucracy. It is so far removed from what the Liberals promised in that regard, but it is exactly what the community were concerned about when it came to the loss of an opportunity for a meaningful say.

I go to the history of that bill - the major projects early legislation in 2020. For the record, for people who are watching, the Greens voted against that bill because it was a dramatic erosion of the community's right to have a say. It was about a fast-track process that would sideline a whole range of proper planning processes that we believe should be in place in Tasmania to protect public places, and to give people a right about major projects that have huge impacts on communities as well as on natural landscapes.

When that LUPA bill was introduced by then planning minister Roger Jaensch, it was done during a period of a heightened number of cases of COVID -19 in Tasmania, in 2020. Remember that period where we had been in lockdown, and the three parties had made a commitment, an agreement, that the business of parliament would be constrained, so that only urgent COVID 19 bills would be passed? Under the pretence that this major projects legislation was an essential part of the COVID 19 economic recovery, the Liberals rushed it through. They rushed it through so fast that there were no clause notes and there were no fact sheets attached to the legislation. The 209 pages of that bill did not have information for people to interpret the bill. The submission process was a joke. There were 1755 individual submissions received to the major projects legislation - and that was to a consultation, an exposure draft document of the bill. It was not the final bill.

Of those submissions, only 1549 were made available to us as legislators to look at. There were 206 submissions that never made it to people who were responsible for speaking to and taking carriage of this legislation in the House. Of the submissions we had access to, 98 per cent of them opposed the major projects legislation. Only 12 submissions - less than 1 per cent - supported the bill, and we have to be clear that eight of those 12 submissions were from organisations that had a vested interest in the outcomes of the bill. They were the Department of State Growth, TasNetworks, the Housing Industry Association, the Tasmanian Minerals, Mining and Energy Council, Cement, Concrete and Aggregates Australia, the Master Builders Association, the tourism industry and TasPorts. What a surprise that those interests supported the major projects legislation. What a surprise, not, that the vast majority of the rest of people who made submissions were deeply concerned about the erosions of the community's right to have a say, and the other matters the bill brought forward.

The bill then continued the removal of appeal rights that had been going on for some years under the Liberals. That bill was rammed through with a shoddy consultation process that only went to the draft consultation bill, and it was an incredibly complex bill.

It was argued by then minister Jaensch that it was the only way complex developments could sensibly be approved in Tasmania, but that was not ever true, because there are three existing pieces of planning legislation under which a major project could be assessed. They are the Projects of State Significance legislation, Projects of Regional Significance and the Major Infrastructure Development approvals. They can each do essentially what that major projects legislation ostensibly was required to do - except what they do not do is greenlight a number of processes that the major projects bill does do, which leaves the planning in Tasmania and the community's participation in it the poorer for it.

It means the controversial developments that have already been through a council planning process and been rejected, or have been approved by a council but have had decisions overturned through an appeal process, or those that are currently prohibited developments within a planning scheme - in each of those examples a development could be called in and assessed under this legislation, so it is an opportunity to have a second go.

It is an opportunity for big developers to wear down, yet again, the community through another process if they have been successful in the first place. For example, Cambria Green - that enormous and grotesque development proposal for the beautiful east coast of Tasmania - has been in train since May 2018. It has been four years now.

I will digress slightly to put on the record that I went to the fourth AGM of the Cambria East Coast Alliance, which formed four years ago specifically to fight that noxious development from the Chinese investors who planned to have what is essentially a Chinese retirement enclave, which would be fully staffed and maintained by Chinese people, for Chinese people. It would put an airstrip, crematorium, development of hotels and retirement villages and shops and all the other things that go with a little township, on one of the most beautiful parts of the east coast, on a wetland area which is naturally incredibly significant, and on an area that is also of historic significance. The president, Anne Held, and the rest of that group are so strong, and they are going to continue until the bitter end.

This is something the Liberals do not get. Communities are outraged at having no say over this incredibly enormous development that would utterly change the landscape, not just of the local environment, but of the whole lifestyle of people who have something they are prepared to defend - and this community has been defending it.

There are 700 people on their supporters list. They have raised tens of thousands of dollars. They have been in the Tasmanian Planning Commission - and we have been waiting to hear the outcome of the planning commission for years now - spending tens of thousands of dollars of money raised by individual donations to fight that development, because the way the planning scheme exists, and the way that it has been written, is as an opportunity for an investor to carve out a huge area like the Cambria Green area does, and call it a Specific Area Plan and enable an enormous development of any sort that they would like essentially. What ends up being approved is not what has to be built and that is the rub. The community can never be confident that exactly what gets built is what gets talked about by the developer and that is a problem in itself.

Cambria Green is just one example of an enormous concept outside of Swansea, but the Hobart City Council and community have also, collectively, been crystal clear they do not want their public land to be used for a cable car on kunanyi/Mt Wellington. They are also clear that even it the council rejects the current development application, it could still be assessed again under the major projects act, despite what the minister tried to pretend at the time. Those residents who love kunanyi as the wild place that it is and who want it to be protected, have not stopped in their fierce battle over the past seven years, to protect the character of that place. Also, the residents who have been fighting to protect the mantle of kunanyi and the character of our city from being overwhelmed by skyscrapers. People will stand up, despite bad laws.

The bill that was rushed through two years ago is the reason we are here today. That bill had shoddy drafting and it was called out by the Tasmanian Planning Commission in their submission in the consultation process. I will read what the Planning Commission said:

The drafting style of the bill is extremely prescriptive, complex, and at times, circuitous. It is difficult to follow, and contrary to the desired outcome of simplifying processes and procedures, it confounds and compounds the levels of complexity.

Who would have thought, that given then minister Jaensch, at the time, promised it was a terrific piece of legislation and rubbished us for calling into question the quality of the drafting. Clearly, no reference to OPC, but to the Government's agenda to ram through legislation under the cover of the so called 'COVID-19 period' where we were not to be debating matters like that.

What we have is that the body responsible for overseeing the development process for major projects was very clear it was a dog of a bill, and it was going to make their process much longer and effectively more expensive. Longer processes cost more and they will be slower because they are more obtuse.

It was not just the Tasmanian Planning Commission who made those points about the existing underlying legislation that, effectively, we are here today to fix, it was also a member's leaked information from people in the Department of Parks and Wildlife. The ABC reported in June 2020, that a policy advisor in the parks department had privately criticised the Government's controversial bill as being, 'Overly complex and failing to actually speed up assessment processes'. The leaked email had the DPIPWE manager in the policy branch questioning whether what, if any, advice previously provided by the department had been incorporated into the bill? That person said:

From a quick scan of it, it appears overly administratively complex. There is no clear demonstration that the bill will actually provide any efficiencies over the current legislative framework.

That person also added:

It was unclear how the proposed amendments would apply to reserved land; in general terms, to land that has been protected. The department had not been consulted on the laws since 2017.

Three years before.

The history of this bill that we are here today to fix, was that it was a thought bubble in 2015, it was talked about in a draft first version in 2017 and there was a first draft of the bill, which was available for people to look at. That was effectively and utterly different to the bill that ended up going through the parliament.

What people saw and got to comment on, the 209 final page length bill, they had seen for six weeks. We are talking about a bill that is not only in the first instance a planning bill, so by definition it is a complex bill. It is the most complex bill and obtuse and senseless creation that the Tasmanian Planning Commission itself has seen.

That was not a consultation process and we are not surprised we are here today to fix up and amend the problems that the Government was trying to pretend were not there in the first place. They were all pointed out mind you, by the way, for the record.

What we have in front of us in Tasmania is a huge range of projects that are being rolled out, particularly in northern Tasmania. Wind farm projects, green hydrogen proposals and a number of these have already been flagged as likely or will go through the major projects process.

We have to be clear: that is an enormous level of industrialisation happening in northern Tasmania or is proposed to happen in northern Tasmania. It has incredible impacts, not only today but for 30, 50 or 100 years on landscapes, some of them that have never had development on them at all. They rample through parts of wild areas and through communities and it is critically important there are processes in place for the assessment to be undertaken in a full and rigorous way and a process that provides meaningful consultation for the community.

The existing legislation was a dog. We voted against it on principle. The bill we have before us today that minister Ferguson, the third in the line of planning ministers has brought on, seeks to substantially improve that bill. We support those improvements and we will go into Committee and have a conversation about some of them in more detail. It is important that much of this bill is fixed up.

We do not support the principle of the major projects legislation in the form it was in but we do support the improvements that have been made to what is a terrible process as the legislation currently enables to occur. There are a lot of damaging elements to it that need to be improved and we will speak about some of them in a bit more detail in the Committee stage of the bill.

Shame on the Government for trying to pretend that this bill was anything other than a shabby attempt at rushing through something that they and a number of developers and other big vested interests in Tasmania actually want. Clearly, they think it makes their life easier and that, on its own, would be concerning for many Tasmanians who have seen the way that the Labor and Liberal Parties get together with vested interests and try and fast track legislation to suit their interests despite the impacts it will be having on the environment and the communities of Tasmania, the representatives of people in this place they ought to be taking care of.

We look forward to asking some more questions of the minister in the Committee stage.