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Rau hopes Infrastructure Aus report will thaw "glacial" Upper House

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Planning Minister John Rau insists he’s prepared “to take as much time as I need” to pass his key planning reform bill, despite his growing frustration with the “glacial” pace of debate in the Upper House.

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“I’ve frankly given up predicting what goes on in there,” he told InDaily before the process resumed today.

“I think progress is being made, but it’s glacial.”

Having ended 2015 on a sour note, with his bill left to languish amid crossbench recriminations, Rau says he “had the impression that some of them had decided they weren’t going to unnecessarily delay things” this time round.

“But that didn’t appear to be the way things were ultimately conducted,” he lamented.

Rau believes he has a fresh ace up his sleeve – last week’s Infrastructure Australia report, which he says underlined the “key planks” of his legislation.

The Infrastructure Plan, he noted, promoted the benefits of cities growing up – not out – to meet population growth, thus suggesting that his “proposed planning reforms are based upon good planning policy”.

“No one doubts the integrity of Infrastructure Australia, so I hope that the South Australian Liberal Party and independent members of the Legislative Council consider the information contained in the plan launched by the Prime Minister,” he said.

The plan emphasised that infrastructure costs were generally lower for developments in established urban areas, which were also more likely to be well-positioned for public transport and other amenities.

“That’s an independent body that’s got nothing to do with me, providing research and recommendations across the country, and it’s basically saying the same things I’ve been saying for the past few years,” Rau said.

“It’s pretty well all of the respectable commentators and academics in this space saying one thing, and a few reasonably loud voices saying another.”

Nonetheless, those voices are finding sympathetic ears with the key aspects of Rau’s bill – an infrastructure levy for local development, keeping councilors off development assessment panels and formalising an urban growth boundary – all facing hurdles in the Upper House.

Rau says the infrastructure charge issue has now been resolved with the development industry, and “what’s left now is for the Leg Co to accept that’s been resolved, and agree with it”.

The development assessment panel debate seems doomed, but Rau insists “arguments about this being an attack on local representation are completely bogus”, insisting the panel’s role is as a “judge, not an advocate for the community”.

And he says it’s only the “greenfield development lobby” that successfully killed off the urban growth boundary last year – with the clause to be recommitted in the Lower House once the legislation is passed.

“It’s really the greenfield developers that are extremely hostile to that… it’s purely self-interest, nothing to do with good planning law and all about self-interest and cash,” Rau said.

Debate resumes today, with the minister optimistically noting: “I’m still getting the sense we’re incrementally getting close to a good outcome.”

“I’m prepared to take as much time as I need to take to get a good outcome,” he said.

“It’s slow and it’s difficult, but I do believe we’re making progress.”

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