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Planning – Short Stay Accommodation

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Tags: Short Stay Accommodation, Planning, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minster, why won't you amend planning directive number 6 to give local councils more freedom to regulate short-stay accommodation?

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you for the question. I have answered this in parliament but I am happy to do so again. Unlike in parliament, I have public service experts at the table who can assist me as well. We will take this together.

The Government doesn't wish to do that. The Government wants to support the sharing economy. This was an innovation under the premiership of Will Hodgman and the then planning minister, Mr Gutwein. That is the reason, to answer the question in short form. In the long form we don't support that policy direction to curtail it to new applicants because we don't think that is the answer to the challenge that we have with housing supply around the state.

I have been clear that while not encouraging or promoting that councils would do this, there is an opportunity for councils, through local planning provisions, to seek an amendment to their local scheme by the Tasmanian Planning Commission. I am going to look for that method. Additionally to that, it is contested as to the extent to which short-stay operations are taking away from private residential rental stock. Different communities are expressing that in different ways. Brian, could you describe how that process might work, even though the Government is not promoting it. There is a pathway. Would you mind describing that please.

Mr RISBY - If I can turn first to the planning directive issue which the question is directly about. The minister can't unilaterally change a planning directive. The commission has to recommend to the minister that a planning directive is made or amended in the first instance. The approach would really be that a council would go to the commission and seek an amendment to the planning directive and then the minister would be advised accordingly.

The minister has just referred to the process under the Tasmanian Planning Scheme, which is considerably simpler because planning directives don't apply to the Tasmanian Planning Scheme. The approach there is simply one where a council would have a sufficient argument to seek an amendment to its LPS through a specific area plan or the like and approach the planning commission as it would an amendment to rezoning. The commission would deal with that application, it wouldn't go anywhere near the minister. There is more flexibility under the new Tasmanian Planning Scheme than there is under the old planning directive process.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, through you to Mr Risby. Are you talking about the new planning scheme and the interim planning scheme there? What you just provided about amending your planning schemes to change the zone is under the new planning scheme or is that the mechanism under the councils' interim planning schemes?

Mr RISBY - That's the process under the Local Provisions Schedule (LPS) under the Tasmanian Planning Scheme.

Dr WOODRUFF - That's right.

Mr RISBY - The process under the Interim Planning Scheme is where the planning directive applies. That's the one that's tricky to manipulate and change because the planning directives and interim schemes are produced under the old legislation that's now been superseded. They only operate under savings provisions so it's actually quite a complex process to modify the planning directive in the first instance in the interim scheme. It's a much simpler process under the new regime.

Dr WOODRUFF - It seems like there's a stalemate here. This is something that you and the minister are saying and then when the mayor of the Hobart City Council and the planning staff of the Hobart City Council went to the Tasmanian Planning Commission they said that they couldn't do anything unless the minister changed the planning directive. Are they right?

What I understand you're saying is that the process for the Hobart City Council to formally move a change of that order for the PD6 is for them to go back to the Planning Commission?

Mr RISBY - There are a few things there. The short answer to the last point is yes, that's the approach that council should take. I think that advice was given by Mr Jaensch when he was the minister. He put forward some options. It's probably worth unpacking why it's got to this point which goes to your question around the planning commission's advice and decision.

The way planning directives can come into being are by two pathways. One of them is through amending the planning scheme to reflect what the planning directive says. The second pathway is where the planning directive sits above the planning scheme and overrides whatever is in the planning scheme. The problem with the Hobart City Council approach was that the planning directive sits above the planning scheme and they sought to amend the planning scheme whereas the actual provisions in the scheme had not been changed to reflect the planning directives. The mechanism wasn't there to make that available. In this instance because the directive sits above, the directive itself needs to be changed. That takes us back to the council seeking to lodge with the commission an application to amend the directive and then the commission would advise the minister as to whether that's appropriate.

Dr WOODRUFF - How long would that process take were the Hobart City Council to initiate it? What are the mandated legislated time frames.

Mr RISBY - They can start any time that they want. It goes to the commission and the commission deals with it. There are no statutory time frames set around that. They could do that at any point.

Dr WOODRUFF - For councils who have moved through the Interim Planning Scheme into the Tasmanian Planning Schemes, how long is the mandated process for them to create a local provision schedule that would change the zone to provide them with the discretion to disallow, for example, whole homes, or councils may use their own discretion to decide how they want to manage short-stay accommodation? It doesn’t have to be that. How long would that process take?

Mr RISBY - That's like seeking an amendment to a planning scheme. That's a statutory process where a council initiate an amendment. In this instance, Hobart's been talking about a specific area plan. That's what they attempted before. They would go through that process and initiate that as an amendment to the LPS, lodge it with the planning commission and the commission has a statutory period to deal with that amendment, as set out in the legislation.

Dr WOODRUFF - That's a SAP, not an LPS.

Mr RISBY - The SAP is part of an LPS.

Dr WOODRUFF - It’s a subset of an LPS.

Mr RISBY - Yes.

Mr FERGUSON - For example, and correct me if I get the terminology wrong, Hobart could ask that its local provision schedule included a Specific Area Plan (SAP) that provided that overlay. They could ask but it may interest you to know that our understanding is that Hobart is progressing with an LPS which doesn't ask for that SAP, which is hard to understand, I'm sure you'd agree.

Dr WOODRUFF - If that's the case, can you see any faster way for the Hobart City Council, who are on the record for wanting to make this change, than those two mechanisms you've established?

Mr RISBY - No, not really. The legislation sets our pathways for modifying planning directives or if they are under the Tasmanian Planning Scheme. The minister just referred to the fact that they have their local provision schedule, their LPS, on exhibition at the moment. That's been quite a while since they lodged it with the commission. It's on exhibition. It doesn't contain a Specific Area Plan for the matter that they've been seeking. The way they would probably deal with it would be to effectively make a submission to themselves to include it at this stage so that when it comes to the commission for its determination, they have a submission that says, 'this SAP should be included along the way'. That's probably the most efficient process at the moment for them to deal with that.

Mr FERGUSON - Is that useful in understanding process? Even though, again, Brian is the expert here, I would argue that in the bigger scheme of things, in a council which has a reputation for knocking back exciting new residential developments and could be considering more proactively positive housing developments, short stay in Hobart is arguably not as -

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, you were very clear that, as planning minister, that you won't act with a planning directive because you don't want to. You said you don't want to do this. That would give councils more freedom to regulate short stay accommodation. There are mechanisms that you could use. Despite what Mr Risby said, there are other mechanisms, but you could be using powers that you have to make it possible to prevent the continued loss of whole homes into the short stay accommodation market.

You're not doing this, because you have a jaundiced, scathing view of Hobart City Council's attempts to try and regulate, to restrain the Airbnb expansion. You're on the record, as you were just then, for attacking them; calling them political; calling them lots of things. In your office, you have an adviser, who's a councillor on the Hobart City Council - Mr Behrakis. I don't think that's information that's not in the public domain. He takes a controversial and antagonistic position on Hobart City Council to anything that seeks to restrain the private rental market.

On top of that, you profit from a direct pecuniary interest in your own short stay, whole house accommodation. The whole package is of a Liberal planning minister who's standing in the way of councils doing what they can, to make the regulatory changes that would help people who are desperately struggling to pay rent in the nation's most unaffordable market. The capital city with the highest rate of short stay accommodation, by a country mile, in the country.

It sure looks to Tasmanians as though you are in a very comfortable situation, personally.

CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff, can I bring your attention to the length that you're going on with this statement? Can we get to a question? There is a limit to one minute, the same as there is a limit to the minister with three minutes, which I've pulled him up on.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks, Chair.

Isn't it the case that you're working from a blinkered position of privilege and you're preventing councils doing what they can to manage this terrible housing crisis? We should be doing everything we can, shouldn't we?

Mr FERGUSON - First of all, I reject your question. In the past I have had to reject your accusations about my interests. I've addressed that. I've made it very clear that with regard to a conflict of interest situation, you make no case about how that would apply here, given that under the planning system all current short stay operators would have existing use rights and would be able to continue to legitimately operate even if the planning rules were changed.

I understand that those who wish to see a change occur, are saying that it doesn't apply to existing. It's more of the same sort of smear that you've been running through this afternoon. You also tried to smear my advisor, Mr Simon Behrakis. It is a fatuous comment that you make to suggest that it's not on the public record. I mean, for goodness sake, it's firmly on the public record because of you and your party. You constantly tell people that one of the councillors on the Hobart City Council has a day job working for me, and it's ridiculous comment that you make. Everyone knows; particularly those who are interested in it. Everybody knows, and he's also constantly accused by your friends on that council of having a conflict of interest, which is an unfounded claim and unfair on him who has to suffer these taunts from you.

Mr Behrakis, for the record and for the benefit of the committee, has no role in planning advice to me, nor local government. He is an adviser to me in the finance space . It's unfortunate that good people have to be accused and treated like this by you.

To address your point that I'm actively standing in the way of councils wishing to take these steps - I don't support those steps, but we are not standing in their way. We've simply articulated the pathway that they are able to approach if they wish to have their Specific Area Plans (SAPs) considered by the TPC. I'm going to leave it there. You've just added to your muckraking throughout the afternoon, which reflects so poorly on yourself.