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Planning and Development

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 22 August 2018, Cassy O'Connor MP


Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House -

  1. acknowledges the unprecedented assault on the Tasmanian environment, public lands and communities caused by the Liberals' pro-developer planning scheme changes and 'open for business' mantra;
  2. agrees that public consultation and appeal rights must be enshrined in all planning assessments and decisions;
  3. rejects any move to enact major projects legislation and further degrade the public interest in land use planning; and
  4. supports an independent planning system for Tasmania.

One of the burning themes within the community at this point in time is what is happening to land use planning in Tasmania, where is the public being given an opportunity to feed in, and why is there trading in public crown land assets protected areas without any transparency, through questions in parliament or Budget Estimates or any sort of statutory process? Why are communities that are concerned about rapid fish farm expansion not being heard? Why are the mechanisms for approving fish farm licences through the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel so opaque and deaf to the public interest?

There are also very significant development proposals in the offing, including the proposed Cambria Green mega-development at Dolphin Sands near Swansea, and the highly divisive cable car proposal for kunanyi/Mt Wellington. There is the Rosny Hill proposal, where an area natural and recreational reserve is being traded by the Clarence City Council against the wishes of the local community. There are also skyscrapers proposed for Hobart that has created significant tension and concern within the community.

As we discovered through Estimates, a process which was enormously frustrating and disrespectful to the principles of openness and transparency, there have been seven unsolicited bids put to Government through the Office of the Coordinator-General. We know that because we have asked the question many times. Every single time we seek to obtain information on a particular unsolicited bid or expression of interest or the use of Crown land in Tasmania, or the licensing, sale or lease of Crown lands, the answer that comes back either from the Office of the Coordinator-General, the Coordinator-General himself, the Minister for State Growth, the minister responsible for Crown Lands or the Parks minister is that these matters are commercial-in-confidence.

We had a not so merry-go-round at the Estimates table, Dr Woodruff and I, trying to obtain some of this information on behalf of the people we were elected to serve who understand it is the Greens in this place who ask these questions. It is the Greens in this place who will stand up for the environment and the community's right to have a say. We asked these questions in the State Growth Estimates where I was trying to obtain information from the Minister for State Growth, who is also the Treasurer, about the Office of the Coordinator-General trading in crown land, because it has never been denied by this Government that when the Liberals took office in 2014, the Office of the Coordinator-General reached out to Crown Lands Services and obtained the list of available crown land. It has never been denied and that is because it is true.

The question was put to the minister, 'The EOI process relates to proposed commercial exploitation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, national parks and crown lands. What areas of crown land are currently the subject of either negotiations or bids?' Mr Gutwein replied, 'That would be a question more appropriately put to the crown lands minister', to which I said:

Not true. I will tell you why it is not true, minister. Before you took on this portfolio, we know the Office of the Coordinator-General rang Crown Lands Services and obtained the lists of available crown lands. The Office of the Coordinator-General is trading in crown lands.

Mr Gutwein, who is the most evasive minister at the Estimates table without peer, said, 'It is not pertinent', to which I replied, 'This is so pertinent.' He said, 'Don't using the word trading.' I said:

It is trading in public assets. I am insulted that you would even bother. This is an expressions-of-interest process for developments being driven by a quango outside State Growth, which is the Office of the Coordinator-General, which sits off the side there like a sore. The process is the expressions of interest run through the Office of the Coordinator-General which relates to the TWWHA, other reserves and crown lands. Minister, which areas of crown land are currently subject to a discussion through the Office of the Coordinator-General?

Mr Gutwein replied, 'I do not have any visibility on that.' I said, 'Perhaps you could ask the Coordinator-General', and the Coordinator-General, Mr Perry said, 'The expressions of interest process are at the early stages for parks and reserves and are confidential.'

This goes to the nub of the problem. We are not talking about private assets, we are talking about public assets. We are talking about public protected areas, public reserves and public crown lands. That is what is being traded under this Government.

There are legitimate reasons why a government might decide to make available to the market a certain area of crown land. When I was minister for housing, we did that in order to increase the supply of social and affordable housing. It was done in the public interest. But if you are trading in public assets you need to give the owners of those assets fair warning, you need to be open and transparent with them, and you need to give the people of Tasmania a say.

In the past five years the people of Tasmania have been the last to know when some deal is being stitched up about a development inside a national park, or about a mega-development for 3185 hectares on the east coast of Tasmania with an airstrip and hundreds of apartments, a development which would substantially change that community's amenity and lives. The people of the east coast were the last to know. The mayor of Glamorgan Spring Bay Council had the request for rezoning. Some council staff had the request for rezoning. The mayor of Glamorgan Spring Bay Council was elected by the ratepayers of Glamorgan Spring Bay, yet he took it on himself to shut out the community that would be most affected here and to hold onto that information until the eleventh hour.

While the 3185 hectares are now privately owned, Moulting Lagoon is not only a public asset, it is an internationally significant Ramsar wetland. What is proposed along Moulting Lagoon, apart from anything else, are two 18-hole golf courses.

We are in a situation here in Tasmania where there has been a lurching towards the commercial and private interests, the interests of foreign governments and away from the public interest. You know this is true because of the number of people who are seething about the way this Government conducts itself. For example, the Dover wood chip mill.

I commend the work of my colleague, Dr Woodruff, working with the local community, standing with them, helping them to run a fantastic local community campaign which has paid off. That is because the people of Dover and its community had to stand up because the Government did the wrong thing by them. What we found out through a right to information request that Dr Woodruff lodged and the development application attached to it, was that work on this southern wood chip port had been going on for two years at least. For at least two years a private company was stitching a project with a local council and the state Government was right in the thick of it, as we found, without engaging with the local community. Of course in that equation was a piece of crown land that the proponent wanted, needed, apparently. Then when Dr Woodruff asked the minister responsible for crown lands about that particular area of crown land she was basically told to go away. You do not have a right to know. We are all hands off and then we find out the state Government's hands were all over it.

It was the same thing in relation to Rosny Hill. I hope that every member of Franklin in this Chamber has done what Dr Woodruff and I have done and walked on that lovely little nature and recreation reserve. It is right there with the city on your doorstep; a place of sanctuary and peace for that community. It's a parcel of reserve land which was handed over to council in trust for a public purpose which has suddenly become the subject of a private development push. The last people to be engaged with on that one was the community around Rosny Hill. It is not good enough. If you are the government of the day to think you can go secretly trading in public assets, you will not have a social licence for a proposal which is foisted on the people at the very last minute once it has all been stiched up. You will not have good planning decisions made; you will have the potential for corruption and the significant potential for cronyism.

The problem is that the Office of the Coordinator General was set up with that explicit purpose of facilitating private development, in large part utilising public assets to do so and under the cover of commercial-in-confidence. This work is progressing through a quango of government without transparency, without accountability and without any respect for the people of Tasmania who have a deep personal and passionate interest in our protected areas, our public lands, our environment amenity and our way of life.

If we go specifically to Cambria Green, it was in April 2015 that one of the proponents of Cambria Green Tourism and Agriculture Pty Ltd sought an appointment with the Premier and gave the Premier a gift. That gift was declared. Three years ago, the proponent arrived on the Premier's doorstep bearing gifts and three years later, at the eleventh hour, a massive development proposal is put before the people of Glamorgan Spring Bay, Dolphin Sands and Swansea. The first they heard about it was only days before council made a decision on the rezoning for a specific area plan. Of course, following that, representations started to flood into council - around 450, as I understand it. They were heartfelt and strongly felt representations from the local community. Overwhelmingly, when you read those representations and talk to people who live there, the feeling is one of despair and anger: that something could have come this far, be this big and be this much of a threat and be waved through by council.

There is growing anger within the community about this development at any cost push, about always favouring the private interest over the public interest, about a government that believes these places are theirs to sell. The Treasury buildings are a perfect example - a cornerstone of our democracy in Tasmania, our history, our heritage. It is a beautiful precinct that, five minutes after the election, the Treasurer announces is to be sold. No conversation with the people of Tasmania, but people are being invited along for an open day. How sweet that is to invite the owners along to an open day for the sale of a building that belongs to them, over which they will have no say at all. They were given no opportunity. They were not asked whether they thought the Treasury building should remain in public hands. That decision was made for them by Mr Gutwein. It is a cash grab. It stemmed from an unsolicited bid from a private developer who wants our Treasury buildings for another hotel.

At so many levels in Tasmania today, what was already a precarious balance between the public and the private interest, between weighing environmental and social concerns with monetary concerns; that precarious balance has tipped wholly in favour of private interest. We are in a climate in Tasmania where cronyism, I believe, is rife. Developers know they can get an entrée into government and a step further along towards getting what they want through the Office of the Coordinator-General and if they go bearing gifts to the office of the Premier.

We also have deep concerns, which are shared by people who do not want to see a cable car deface kunanyi, who do not want to see a massive Chinese government-backed development on the east coast and who do not want to see Hobart's skyline defaced by skyscrapers. We have concerns about the proposed major projects legislation which would amend the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act.

The concerns stem from the enormous powers that such legislation would give to the minister of the day. The experience from interstate, when you talk to people with planning and heritage expertise, is that a whole range of developments can be called in. Even the draft legislation makes it clear. A whole range of developments can be called in by the minister of the day, if a developer believes that going through a local planning authority will become too expensive, time consuming and controversial, the developer can seek a call-in. The experience from interstate tells us that this legislation is a recipe for secrecy, lack of accountability and corrupt practices.

There has been no argument put to substantiate the need for a major projects amendment bill that would give the minister of the day such power to do favours for private developers. There is some Orwellian language in the discussion paper, response to consultations, that came out in December 2016, where we are asked to believe that this new legislation sought to minimise the minister's powers. That is garbage. What it does is give the minister absolute power to agree to call in a project and make a decision on approving that project. This legislation is all about certainty for developers. There is nothing in this consultation paper that gives any faith that the final iteration of the major projects legislation will be anything other than in substance what the original draft of the legislation was.

I want to talk about some of the concerns that have been expressed by stakeholders in relation to the major projects draft bill. These are concerns that were raised late last year and early this year, because of course the consultation happened over the Christmas period, didn't it? That is another standard operating trick from governments or developers who want to minimise public participation in planning decisions. Pop the consultation draft out on 20 December and give people until 5 January. It happens all the time and it happened in relation to this highly controversial draft legislation that has the potential to do enormous damage to public faith in planning and land use planning decisions in Tasmania. At the moment, faith across communities in Tasmania is at a very low ebb because of an 'open for business' mantra that has sent a clear signal to any and all developers that anything goes.

As Sophie Underwood from the Freycinet Action Network said at yesterday's Town Hall meeting:

When the Liberals took us to the last election saying they would take Tasmania to the next level, they did not say whether it would be up or down.

They have certainly taken secrecy, lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and arrogance about public assets to the next level. There is no doubt about that.

There is another example from budget Estimates where questions were being asked of the Minister for State Growth about a right to information request and once again, the minister had delegated it so that it was not subject to internal review. Who did the Minister for State Growth delegate the request to? He delegated it to the secretary of State Growth. It was in relation to the expressions of interest process for development inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It denied access to the information we were seeking and, of course, that is the door being slammed in our face. We are here to represent the public interest and people who are concerned about the exploitation of Tasmania's protected area, so it slammed the door in the face again of a concerned community. Over and over again in Tasmania that is what happens.

Despite the Premier saying at Estimates in 2015 that there would be no more delegating of right to information requests by ministers so there could be an internal review and therefore a review by the ombudsman, the practice is still happening in relation to land use planning. It is happening in relation to development inside parks and protected areas, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is disgraceful. It is an ideology here where you shut Tasmanians out for the longest time possible, pay lip service to their concerns, set up legislative and regulatory blockages to their participation and deny appeal rights to decisions. That is what the major projects legislation would do. If you are not happy with the decision of the appointed assessment panel, you do not have a right to appeal to another planning body.

We brought this notice of motion on today because there is growing unrest within the community about the direction Tasmania is being taken in by the Liberals and the damage being done to the fabric of our communities and our landscapes. Can anyone imagine what Dolphin Sands would look like if Cambria Green is approved? We do not want to, it is horrifying.

I understand that Labor will be proposing a series of amendments and I will certainly discuss them with their shadow spokesperson, Mr O'Byrne, in good faith. As I have said to Mr O'Byrne, we would like to find a way on this issue in the public interest to support their amendments. It is regrettable that they cannot support the original motion because it is hard to argue that the Liberals are not causing damage and the rest of the substance of the motion, but I understand that potentially Labor is not totally over the line on major projects legislation. I look forward to your contribution on that, but we cannot support your proposed amendment -

Mr O'Byrne - There is one more as well but it probably won't get you across the line anyway.

Ms O'CONNOR - I look forward to seeing it. I did note yesterday at the Town Hall meeting when you made your contribution that it was received well by the very large crowd who had congregated there for the love of the east coast and Tasmania. There was particular delight expressed by the crowd in response to your fairly firm statement, I would have thought, on major projects legislation. I will let you speak for yourself, but I hope you understand we cannot support your amendments because they do not go far enough. They neglect major projects, do not acknowledge the damage that has been done by the Liberals, and it is really hard to support an amendment which has as the opening statement that it supports sustainable development, because there is no definition put forward of sustainable.

I am reminded, Mr O'Byrne, that your former state Labor colleagues said the Tamar Valley pulp mill was sustainable. They thought that Tasmania was operating a sustainable native forest old-growth logging industry. Mr Llewellyn thought the development in Ralphs Bay was a sustainable, sensible development so, with respect, I am not going to support your amendments. I am happy to listen to you and I understand you will struggle to support our motion, but I certainly hope that this House, in a tripartisan way, can acknowledge that we need to reset the balance in the direction of the public interest once again and the mechanism for doing that in large part is through a good, strong, independent planning system.