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"We're nearly there": Rau lobbies crossbench on planning reform

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Planning Minister John Rau has stepped up his campaign to convince key cross-benchers of the merits of proposed planning reforms in a bid to revive his stalled bill when parliament resumes next week.

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A key measure from the wide-ranging legislation, mandating a boundary for urban sprawl, was defeated late last year, but Rau insists the measure will be re-committed.

He’s set his sights on opposing crossbenchers from Family First, and key independent John Darley.

“John obviously has a vote and every vote’s important… all of them are worthy of engagement on this topic,” Rau told InDaily.

“I’m continuing to advocate for the original position [and] continuing to try and engage with the crossbench… I’m still optimistic we’ll get a reasonable outcome.”

He said he believed the two Family First MLCs and Darley were “all listening at the moment”.

“Whether they’ve finally concluded their views on the matter, I suspect not,” he said.

The other major points of contention are a proposal to levy developers and local homeowners for community infrastructure projects and Rau’s determination to remove councillors from Development Assessment Panels.

The infrastructure funding model remains fluid, with the minister “engaging actively with industry groups”.

“My expectation is we’ll have something which is acceptable to most of them by next week, and by reason of them being okay with it I expect to get cross-party support,” he said.

“My sense is we’re nearly there.”

On the development assessment panels, though, he is not for turning.

“I’ve no intention of changing my position on that… If it has to come to a vote – look, so be it,” he said.

“I believe absolutely from the point of view of both public integrity and planning policy that it’s essential, and I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to persuade the crossbenchers of the importance of supporting that position.

“I’m not claiming victory yet.”

But Darley told InDaily he had received two departmental briefings on the infrastructure fund “and still I don’t understand it”.

He said he believed the discontents were as far away from a consensus as ever, and “probably even more so, if you listen to what people are saying about the infrastructure fund”.

“I said to John Rau I want a proper briefing this time on the infrastructure fund, from people who at least think they know what it’s all about,” he said.

He’s still far from convinced on the urban growth boundary.

“I said from the start I didn’t believe the urban growth boundary did anything, and certainly wouldn’t agree to one that had to be agreed to by both houses of parliament,” he said.

“So that’s about where we’re at, at this stage.”

Darley does, though, “fully support taking planning away from councillors”, however Greens MLC Mark Parnell told InDaily he nonetheless expects the status quo will prevail if the matter comes to vote.

Rau was left fuming when the Upper House failed to progress the bill before the Christmas recess, with several key crossbenchers taking exception to being leant on for a speedy resolution.

But the minister insists he was “talking to them about this last year as well… I just couldn’t manage to persuade them”.

“There’s no end to my enthusiasm for getting the bill through, we just had an interval in the middle, called Christmas,” he said.

Nonetheless, Darley maintains: “I think there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge yet.”

“Rau was saying in that last week of parliament, ‘You’ll sit for the three optional days, and the night, and Christmas Day’… I made the point that if you treat people like children, sooner or later they’ll start to act like children.

“Well, I think he understands that now… the Upper House is the Upper House, they’re not going to be dictated to by the Lower House.

“If you’re not prepared to engage you suffer the consequences, simple as that… I’m reasonably satisfied the way he’s treating us now [is] a lot better than it was before.”

Darley said the reforms represented “probably the biggest bill that’s hit the parliament in the last couple of years”.

“We’ve got to get it right, otherwise we’re just wasting our time,” he said.

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