Planning, development and infrastructure bill 2015

In Parliament - Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (20:46:52): I also rise to speak on the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill 2015, commend the member for Goyder for his contribution and note it is always difficult to follow the deputy leader and member for Finniss. South Australia's planning system is complex, cumbersome and confusing. Anyone needing to use the planning system must navigate up to 23,000 pages of planning rules across 500 residential zones and some 2,500 combinations of zones, overlays and spatial layers.

Reform is vital, which we all acknowledge, as the member for Finniss was just acknowledging then. We must create more certainty for business, homeowners and industry. We need a system that is more responsive, involves less red tape, easy to understand and delivers better outcomes, but reform must be considered, balanced and transparent. Once again, this government has illustrated that it has achieved none of those in this bill and has failed on those objectives of considered legislation, balanced legislation and transparent legislation.The government committed to introduce the bill in July to allow consultation over the winter break. This did not happen, and the bill was introduced on 8 September. After that, we had 17 pages of amendments tabled to go with the introduced bill in September. The bill is supposed to deliver a planning system that balances the interests of the development industry, business and community; it does not.

It was expected that this bill would provide detailed information on its coverage and operation—wrong again. Key information such as the draft regulations are not available, details on the planning and design code are not available and the charter of community participation is not available. The missing details will determine what the reforms actually mean for sectors and consumers. The government wants us to take a giant leap of faith. They want us to endorse planning reforms which could affect the way South Australians live for decades to come without detailed information on how it will operate. I think this is an insult to this parliament, its members and the public of South Australia.

At a recent public meeting convened by the Community Alliance of South Australia last week, the minister left immediately after his speech. He had gone within 10 minutes. He made his contribution and left. He did not stay to hear the other speakers. He did not stay to listen to the community. This is a minister who is a key member of the government that recently launched Reforming Democracy: Deciding, Designing and Delivering Together with a message of democratic reform and bringing people into the decision-making process. None of these key elements is present in this bill.

I have a suggestion for the minister if he truly wants to involve people in the decision-making; that is, stick around and listen to them and listen to parliament and involve the parliament in the process and in consultation. For the record, and for the minister, the Community Alliance meeting resulted in a communiqué stating that the bill was to be rejected. The Community Alliance SA have asked parliament to oppose this bill, and they are not alone.

I have heard from many in the community expressing their concerns with the proposed changes to planning laws. I have received correspondence from businesses, councils, developers, representative groups and my constituents. Not one of them, not a single individual or group supports this bill in its entirety. Constituents have urged me to keep their concerns in mind and raise their objections. They have a strong resolve to keep the planning system local. They want local councils to have a say on the type of development that occurs in their community. They do not want to see a blanket decision of the minister covering all South Australia. They want to retain influence and a sense of input into planning legislation and it is for this reason that they oppose this bill.

I have received a copy of correspondence to the minister sent on behalf of the City of Mitcham, City of Onkaparinga, Adelaide City Council, and the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters. I have also received representations directly from many local councillors. They are all united in their opposition to these proposed reforms. The first and most notable criticism has been the lack of community consultation, and for a government that prides itself on involving the community, involving stakeholders and listening to the people, once again it is all lip service.

In particular, there is a failure to consult with local government in this proposed legislation in the lead-up to the production of this bill. When you are proposing the most substantial changes to the state planning system in some 30 years, I would have thought it may be a good idea to go out there and actually talk to those most involved in that system and consult with those who will be most affected by the changes.

The local councils are frustrated. They are frustrated that the bill goes significantly further than discussions that occurred through the expert panel process. They are frustrated by the significant lack of detail that was available throughout that process and they are frustrated that the panel was presented as a forum for potential ideas that would lead toward reform not an outcome in itself in the form of the bill.

Like many of us reading this proposed legislation, local councils believed that it would benefit everyone considerably if the regulations were provided together with the bill. You would have thought we would see those today. Without regulations it is more than a little difficult to determine the eventual outcomes envisaged by this bill and with any proposed amendments that will be put in the other place.

There are also many other more detailed concerns put forward by the councils—the proposed statewide planning and design code to replace all 68 council development plans. It may take finding information regarding these policies relevant to property easier but it will also mean that there will be less ability for the community to influence a policy that directly affects them.

The proposed charter of community participation may—and I stress 'may'—provide more opportunity to comment on planning policy up-front. I stress 'may' because we still have not seen the charter of community participation. The details of the consultation are not known. They are not known because they have not been developed. Local councils are adamant that they must be included in the development of the charter to ensure that it is implemented in the correct manner, given that councils will be responsible for delivering on the charter. I would have thought that if we are having this debate we would have the charter in front of us but, alas, we do not. Perhaps the government should have considered putting the horse before the cart. As the Mayor of Mitcham council, Glenn Spear, notes:

Had the charter been developed before the bill it could have been used to undertake thorough consultation on the draft bill prior to it being presented to the parliament.

The proposed removal of elected members of the Development Assessment Panel provides few opportunities for elected members to represent their community interests. It does not allow for the community to feel involved in the decision-making process and it removes the community's main advocate that can represent and push for outcomes that best suit a local situation.

The proposed removal of the category 3 public notification process and, therefore, removal of third-party appeal rights against development decisions, removes the community's right to review and potentially influence development decisions. Councils consider it important that the community be engaged and have an ability to have their say in relation to development within their area. Big government does not always knows best.

The proposed infrastructure scheme may result in higher council rates, particularly if you live in a new development area as council may need to recoup the cost of infrastructure otherwise funded by the developer under the current planning system. It will also likely impose a financial impost on councils, which will be responsible for the administration of such schemes.

Under the proposed changes, councils will be responsible for granting access to private land by the neighbours if they need access for stability requirements, undertake developments on the boundary and require access, or to enable an inspection of property, so that they can lodge a development application. This will have significant resourcing and enforcement implications for council. Currently, council has limited involvement with such matters, and they would like to keep it that way. They do not see it as their role to act as mediators in relation to neighbourhood disputes.

It is acknowledged that the proposed SA planning portal should provide a simpler and easier way to lodge an approval and find information in relation to a property, but many councils have already made a considerable investment in undertaking electronic assessments, storing the majority of information electronically. They are also in various stages of having an online lodgement, processing and monitoring system in their own right.

Councils are weary of further government attempts to cost shift or effect any changes that place an inequitable financial burden on them. In so many cases, time and time again, we are seeing a transfer of cost burden from this government onto every other group that is not this government in order for them, in every way, to balance their budget.

Much could have been learned and gained through utilising existing local government expertise and existing systems. Once again, the lack of transparency is a major concern for councils. They have requested information pertaining to the fees and charges associated with accessing information held on the portal. This information will be quite important to the community, especially given that the current legislation provides this as a free service.

Residents associations have also expressed their unease and opposition to the planning bill. I am sure that the member for Adelaide will touch on this, but the Prospect Residents Association has written to the minister outlining their serious concerns. They believe that the proposed changes are overwhelmingly pro-development and anti-community. They consider this skewed focus will lead to poor outcomes that will have a negative impact on the character of a local community, the social and environmental features of local areas will be adversely affected, and changes are likely to increase community conflict.

They are also alarmed at the overall tone and emphasis of the bill, in particular, elected members, both on councils and members of parliament, and members of the community being removed from the decision-making process; loss of heritage and character in historic conservation zones; the restriction on public access to information; the financial impost on the community to pay for various aspects implemented by the bill; emphasis on fast-tracking approvals, which will lead to inappropriate development and decisions; and loss of rights and abilities to challenge inappropriate development; the lack of criteria against which building proposals will be assessed; the continuing misuse of interim operations which allow development to occur without community consultation; and, indeed, a lack of consideration of social and environmental goals.

In light of the opposition of both councils and residential associations I have already outlined, it will come as no surprise that the Local Government Association is opposing this bill. This opposition is understandable and it is to be expected. It is expected because of their experience interacting with the government, their experience being ignored, their experience where the decision-making process has failed them, and experience where this government has thrown out the rule book and made it up as they go along.

As evidenced by the Cremorne Plaza development within the City of Unley, the state government's Development Assessment Commission approved a seven-storey development. The decision was made in spite of the council's development plan allowing for only up to five storeys in this area, and it was a decision that disregarded considerable local opposition—and there were many written objections to this seven-storey proposal. This government does not listen.

We had the case most recently with the Aldi development in the City of Mitcham, where the City of Mitcham declined the proposal, not because it was against development but because it was against the location and, once again, the state government overruled the City of Mitcham on this issue. At times, local government, local community groups and local input sometimes does know best. Yet here we are being asked by the government to take a leap of faith and support a bill that has major holes in it—as some would say, more holes than Swiss cheese—and one that takes away the right to consultation by local communities.

Another vocal opponent to this bill is the Environmental Defenders Office South Australia. They do believe that environmental matters have been prioritised or have received appropriate consideration in this bill. Given the importance of our environment and ensuring its sustainability, environmental matters should be at the forefront of decision-making.

The bill reduces community participation in the planning system and fails to accord appropriate checks and balances on the powers of the minister and the proposed state planning commission. Further, it is also unclear whether the environment minister will have a power of veto if the minister is unsatisfied with the planning proposal meeting South Australia's broader environmental considerations.

Among the EDO's key concerns is that the primary objective of the proposed new planning system will be to promote and facilitate development. Recognition of community ownership of the planning system, sustainability and intergenerational equity is relegated to planning principles. There are fears that when courts interpret the act, they will look to the economic aims, with environmental and social impacts only secondary thoughts. It is important that a precautionary principle is included to prioritise social and environmental goals.

The Housing Industry Association has also raised its concerns with the planning bill. The HIA is well positioned to comment on the bill as Australia's largest residential building organisation. The HIA believes the urban growth boundary must be removed from the bill. They advocate that the supply of land will diminish, higher land prices will result and the appearance of smaller allotments will spawn as developers try to stretch available land to meet housing demand and maintain an affordable product should the urban growth boundary be included.

The key word is transparency and this is raised time and time again from every single stakeholder group that is concerned with this bill. The HIA's concern is that the bill is not transparent in formally recognising or defining the urban growth boundary. The HIA strongly opposed the new infrastructure scheme and what it refers to as an insidious new tax. The HIA note that the housing industry is already the highest taxed sector in Australia, with 38 per cent of the cost of building a new house in South Australia being attributable to government taxes and charges. Thirty-eight per cent of the cost of building a new house in South Australia is attributable to government taxes and charges. It is quite incredible when you really think about it.

The Property Council claims that the proposal may amount to stamp duty by stealth. We welcomed the government's announcement in the state budget—and I know the Treasurer is in the house right now—that it will abolish stamp duty on commercial property transactions, but there was no point in taking that step and then slapping down a new tax through the development levy by stealth. At a time when we need to improve housing affordability, it is difficult to understand how this proposal is going to help homebuyers, in particular first homebuyers.

The HIA is calling for more transparency in response to the proposed Planning and Design Code. Details are needed to determine the intent and effect of those proposed changes. The HIA want these provisions removed from the bill. They could then be introduced after an acceptable planning and design code has been written and released for public comment. No-one is actually against the bill and no-one is against making improvements to the planning act, but let's work out what we are talking about. Let's look at the codes. Let's look at the regulations. Let's look at the Charter of Community Participation so we know what we are actually talking about.

The HIA has asked for more transparency, this time concerning the Charter of Community Participation and, again, they have asked for this provision to be removed. It should only be introduced after an acceptable charter has been written and released for public comment. The HIA has reiterated widespread disappointment that the government did not make the bill available for public consultation prior to its introduction into parliament. It has also added its voice to the criticism of the government's omission of key regulation and procedural and policy documents that will support the operation of the bill.

Without these documents, it is not possible for the HIA or parliament to accurately assess the full impact of the proposed new planning system. This bill is scant in detail, even though it is over 200 pages. It is detail that the HIA, and every other interested party, considers essential to determine the intent and effect of the bill. Without this information, and without addressing the concerns I have detailed today, the Housing Industry Association is another group that advocates for this bill to be defeated.

The bill will have significant impact on rural South Australia, as well as metropolitan Adelaide. It will deliver a major overhaul of the state's planning system, a system that protects and administers the houses we live in, the infrastructure and services we need, and our places of work and recreation. We all want a planning system that is easier to understand and simpler to deal with, but the system needs to be balanced, fair, have broad support and reflect the interest of all users—individuals, communities, businesses and industry. As it stands, the minister's proposed planning reforms do not deliver.

South Australia's planning system is integral to the competitiveness of our state and, right now, we need to be competitive. The regulatory impact statement prepared last month in response to the proposed reforms highlighted the relationship between the planning system and economic activity.

Over 10 years to March 2015 the median value of construction work done (property and related work) in South Australia was approximately $8.1 billion, or 4.5 per cent of Australia's construction industry. At some stage all of this construction work has had interaction with the planning system. This interaction may have been directly through planning and building approvals or indirectly through accessing strategically planned and funded infrastructure. In any case, these interactions with the planning system are linked to regulatory processes such as the Development Act 1993, and can delay economic activity.

New legislation is a must, I think we all agree with that. We must improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system to deliver better outcomes for all those who interact with it, and it must be improved to deliver better outcomes for our economy. However, we need to be certain that the changes we make deliver the right outcomes for South Australia and South Australians. The quality and execution of that change will determine whether the reforms are able to kickstart the investment they promise or leave us in a quagmire of confusion and discontent, just like the new cycling laws.

We need to listen to industry groups in the community, we need to take their feedback on board in order to deliver a system that is clear and easy to navigate, and that enables development that is in everyone's best interest. Based on what feedback has been received so far, we have a long way to go in this matter.