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More "twists and turns" in planning stoush, Rau warns


A compromise that would allow a sole councillor to remain on future development assessment panels is “unnecessary tokenism”, Planning Minister John Rau says, vowing to fight to restore the integrity of his contentious legislation.

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Rau was upbeat this morning, having secured a major win yesterday, with the Upper House finally formalising arrangements for an urban growth boundary, despite rejecting the proposal late last year.

Labor recommitted the aspects of the bill that were shot down, scoring a major win on the environment and food protection area that seeks to safeguard the urban fringe from development through an act of parliament.

But the Opposition, as forecast by InDaily this month, secured crossbench support to thwart Rau’s controversial bid to ban elected local government representatives from development assessment panels, while reducing their participation to the smallest possible number.

There’s still one or two holes to be played in this particular game

Rau, though, today singled his intent to fight on, telling InDaily: “I haven’t given up on that.”

“There’s still one or two holes to be played in this particular game,” he said, arguing that the amendment was a needless sop to the state’s Local Government Association.

“I think it’s unnecessary tokenism which means the model is being made less reasonable than it should be in order to give them a fig leaf, and I’m not inclined to do that.”

Rau said his “inclination at the moment” was to use the Government’s numbers in the Lower House to “send the bill back up there” to the Legislative Council in its original form.

There has been dissent within the Opposition about what position to take, and Rau says “I’m not sure if the matter goes to deadlock that they’ll necessarily stick up for that position”.

“I’m inclined to push this back again… it’s something I absolutely believe from the policy perspective is correct,” he said.

But Opposition Planning spokesman Steven Griffiths is confident the crossbench – and the Liberal partyroom – is not for turning.

“We’ve taken a position that’s been supported by the LGA, and I believe it’s fair,” he said.

LGA chief Matt Pinnegar urged the Government “to reconsider its position”.

“We’re so close to finalising the bill and the invitation is still open for the State Government to work with local government on its implementation, if they can get over what we think has been a sensible compromise,” he told InDaily.

“Our sector firmly believes it needs to be involved in planning at the beginning and at the end of the process, and we have a role to play in decision-making when it comes to local communities.”

He said with the likes of leading planning academic Michael Buxton speaking against the Minister’s position, along with the LGA’s own community survey suggesting “strong community support for elected member involvement… the weight of evidence is against the Minister’s proposal”.

The state’s Property Council, though, has long backed Rau’s intent on DAPs, with executive director Daniel Gannon claiming the compromise still means that “our parliamentarians [have] accepted the argument that we had to change the current lethargic local government-based planning system”.

“The campaign to remove elected representatives from DAPs was about professional decision-making, streamlining approvals and promoting economic growth and job creation,” he said.

“Obviously the property sector would have liked to see the Opposition draw a line in the sand and back the state’s biggest private sector employer at a time when our jobless rate leads the nation.”

If Rau is not content to lose a battle on development assessment panels, the Liberals have now conceded defeat on urban growth boundaries, which they did not believe should be enshrined in legislation.

“We’re not happy with the decision [but] we do respect the fact that democracy has voted,” conceded Griffiths.

Rau said he was “extremely pleased” with the hard-fought outcome, claiming “it’s been a major policy point that I’ve been very, very keen to get across the line”.

He did so by way of a “modest compromise” with Xenophon-aligned independent John Darley, which yielded “other little tweaks that made it stronger from my point of view”, but Rau is adamant the spirit of his original intent remains.

“It’s a satisfactory outcome from my point of view, it means [the boundary] has got the maximum amount of scrutiny,” he said.

“I’m doing what I’ve always said I’d do, which is take the power away from me as minister.

“It’s a debate that goes back probably as far as when Di Laidlaw was minister [in the 1990s], so the conversation’s been around a long time.”

The Upper House is expected to resolve the remainder of the Planning Bill this afternoon, although a deadlock conference looms unless Rau is persuaded to blink on DAPs.

“This has been a marathon session,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone in this building remembers a bill that’s been more debated or talked about.”

But, he warned, “there’s more twists and turns to come.”

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