Response to Labor’s Planning Policy

The last Tasmanian Conservationist included a feature article outlining the numerous concerns we had regarding the state government’s ‘business-first approach’ to land-use planning and summarised the proposals we had made to the opposition parties to address these concerns.

It is very pleasing that six months later we can report that our efforts and those of our partner organisations (most notably Planning Matters Alliance Tasmania) have paid off and there is hope for more progress.

On 24 November 2017 the Tasmanian Labor Party released its policy on ‘Planning and Local Government’ which it will take to the state election.

In a combined media release the Tasmanian Conservation Trust and PMAT ‘cautiously welcomed’ the policy. We said the Labor Party has responded to the community’s concerns that the Liberal government’s planning reforms have gone too far, but Labor has not committed to action on a number of fundamental concerns.

It is encouraging that the Labor Party has made it clear that the policy released last month is a start and it is open to discussion regarding additions. We will continue working for an improved Labor policy and to encourage the Tasmanian Greens and other minor parties to develop strong and comprehensive planning policies.

Strengths of the policy

The Labor policy commits to retaining the community’s right to appeal approvals of discretionary developments. The Liberal government is committed to weakening third party rights.

Labor has accepted the critical role that planning policies play to set objectives for the planning system that reflect the interests of the community as a whole and not just those of the development sector. Despite promising planning policies at the 2014 election, the Liberal government has failed to deliver any.

The highlight of the Labor policy is that they have ruled out changes to existing major projects legislation and oppose ministerial call-in powers for major projects (such as the proposed Fragrance Towers), clearly distinguishing them from the Liberals on a key issue.

Labor will establish a free Planning Advice and Information Service that will be available to people to provide professional advice and support in relation to development applications and planning scheme changes.

The Labor party has acknowledged the need for reviews of the Statewide Planning Scheme and the Parks and Wildlife Service Reserve Assessment and Approvals process (PWS RAA). 

Weaknesses of the policy

The Labor policy makes no commitments in relation to developments in reserved land and fish farms and is essentially the same as the Liberal’s policy. Labor has proposed reviews of the Statewide Planning Scheme and the PWS RAA process, which have no timeframes and may achieve nothing without commitments to addressing key community concerns.

The Liberal government is committed to excluding the community from having a say over developments in National Parks and Reserves (through making all developments in reserved land permitted under the proposed State Planning Provisions) and the Labor Party’s policy remains silent on this fundamental concern. 

We will be campaigning for the Labor Party to strengthen its policy to give the public a say over developments in reserved land. Major developments in reserved land should be discretionary (unless a management plan states otherwise or where specific developments are currently prohibited) and subject to a decision of the local council and open to community representation and appeal. At a minimum, Labor should specifically say that concerns regarding development in reserved land will be addressed in the proposed review of the Statewide Planning Scheme.

In a similar vein, the Labor Party’s proposed review of the PWS RAA process does not acknowledge many of the flaws of this process. It is critical that the policy makes a commitment to the RAA process being reviewed and that it will be incorporated into the parks and reserves management legislation to ensure it is rigorous, transparent and enforceable.

The Labor Party has not responded to our recommendation that the Marine Farm Planning Review Panel be abolished and a new process established that gives the community a real say over where it is appropriate to have fish farms.

Many in the community have raised concerns regarding the relative powers of the Minister for Planning (in regard to making of the State Planning Provisions) and local councils (in regard to the scope and flexibility of Local Planning Schedules). While the Labor Party has proposed a review of the Statewide Planning Scheme there is no commitment to the review addressing the need to amend legislation in regard to the relative powers of local councils and the Minister for Planning.

Article by Peter McGlone - TCT Director

Image: Labor MP, Madeleine Ogilvie at the launch of Labor's Planning Policy. Photo by Jack Redpath.