Presented below are some lowlights from yesterday’s Hansard debate on the Planning & Environment Objectors’ Bill. We have admittedly been very selective in what we reproduce here – the ‘debate’ went on for ages, with many questions and responses. Readers should go directly to Hansard if they wish to read the entire debate.

Most noteworthy is:

  • Libs raise many concerns – but the Bill is not opposed
  • Greens raise many concerns – but the Bill is not opposed
  • Clearly, Dalidakis appears well and truly out of his depth!
  • Throughout the entire duration, there appeared to be approximately 15 elected members sitting in the chamber! Woeful performance from all concerned!

The Standing Committee also tabled its summary report – UPLOADED HERE


Mr DAVIS – indicate at the start that the opposition will not be opposing the bill, but we do not believe the bill achieves what the government set out to achieve. We do not believe the bill actually achieves what the government claims it achieves. We do not believe it will lead to an outcome that will see the government achieve its election commitment. It does provide some symbolic cover for the government in taking a step towards its election commitment, but it does not actually achieve the outcomes the community desires.

Let me explain to the house what this bill actually willIt will fuel community objections and it will give false hope to communities and genuine community groups that often have legitimate points to make, because if their points are not made in the way that is required by the Planning and Environment Act, they will count for nothing. The bill will give false hope. I asked representatives of one of the community groups whether this bill was in effect a hoax and they agreed that it was in effect a hoax. It is a false-hope bill, a bill that will mislead communities into believing that if there are more objections, it will make a difference. It will make a difference only if each of the objections fits within the meaning of significant social effect. I think it will lead to disharmony in communities, with no actual practical effect in the outcomes of  planning applications and objections to planning applications.

In conclusion, this bill is regarded by the government as a step towards satisfying its election commitment. I do not believe it does achieve that; I do not believe this bill achieves what it claims to achieve. It is not our intention to stand in the way of it, but I want to have my concerns, and the opposition’s concerns, recorded clearly. We believe this bill will lead to more division in the community, not better outcomes for communities. It will give false hope, and we believe there is a potential negative in terms of additional costs and additional associated legalism.

It is not a good bill. Let us be quite clear here. I have been around planning and these areas for a long time, and I have seen many bills come through this Parliament and have spoken on many of them, but rarely do I see a bill put forward by a new government that actually achieves the trifecta of having developers and builders and community groups all pointing to its deficiencies, all pointing to the fact that it fails to achieve the government’s outcome. If the government thinks this is best practice in legislation, it is very misguided.

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan)—I rise to speak on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015. This is a bill that promises but does not deliver. To deliver the community’s voice in land use planning would require more than a couple of puzzling ‘must’, ‘may’ and ‘where appropriate’ phrases wrapped around ‘significant social effect’. The absence of the community’s voice in the planning scheme reflects the fundamental nature of the scheme as an impenetrably complex, inconsistent and inaccessible set of rules that are subject to ministerial veto. Instead of half window-dressing the planning scheme with unenforceable provisions in the name of giving the community a voice, how about delivering real planning reform?

Much clearer definitions of land use categories are needed, as is a planning scheme that explicitly and consistently places environmental sustainability and community needs ahead of the narrow commercial interests of developers. Banning land developer donations to political parties would be a great injection of integrity into planning. The skyline is filling up with towers full of tiny apartments with little natural light and amenity, and developers continue to cash in.

Planning reform is needed to clip the wings of the all-powerful Minister for Planning, to surrender some power back to local councils and communities. This would reduce the planning minister’s ability to mash politics into planning without transparency or accountability. The planning minister has unique power in Victoria to control all planning decisions. The unchecked power is bad for democracy, bad for community engagement in local communities and bad for consistency.

The Greens will not oppose this bill, but we do have significant concerns about it. What we are concerned about is, given that it will be a numbers game and that it reads as a numbers game, whether this will be the basis for campaigns formulated on hate, bigotry and ignorance. We would hate to see this bill drive that in a community, with people believing that it is about the number of objections that you get. Some spurious link to significant social effect will drive that in our community. We do not need that moving forward.

There is a lack of definition in relation to what is proposed here. We see a new term ‘where appropriate’ inserted should the bill be successful, but we do not know what ‘where appropriate’ means. There is no definition of that, and it is a mystery to me how we will get consistency around interpreting the Planning and Environment Act 1987 if we have 79 responsible authorities and a tribunal trying to define ‘where appropriate’, when there is a lack of definition as to what that actually means.

The bill establishes the new category of ‘must (where appropriate)’ within the Planning and Environment Act. It is our contention that this in fact does not lead to clarity but to more confusion in the Planning and Environment Act. It will be difficult for communities to understand what the act seeks to achieve because of the competing policy objectives within the legislation. On the one hand the bill gives additional powers to opponents, but on the other hand it improves the ability of community to oppose inappropriate developments if they are linked to significant social effects. It is a complete competition in terms of who wins out in that space. I am concerned that the bill will add a competing policy objective particularly into something as important as community participation in the planning process and the rights of people to object to planning applications in their municipalities.

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria)—I am delighted to speak today on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015, which provides me with double satisfaction in that it again proves we are a government that honours its promises and keeps its commitments alongside reinforcing the most basic of democratic principles upon which this Parliament and indeed our parties are built—giving a voice to the individual.

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan)—New section 60(1B) introduces new terms for consideration. It states: … the responsible authority must (where appropriate) have regard to the number of objectors… Can the minister provide a definition of the phrase ‘where appropriate’?

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade)—The clause is effectively plain English. It allows the ruling judge in the case to use their discretion where appropriate in their judgement

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan)—I have a supplementary question: in terms of the responsible authority, how does the judge’s perception of plain English and using discretion where appropriate work in practice?

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business,Innovation and Trade)—The clause gives discretion to the decision-maker in terms of ruling whether or not the objections are relevant or irrelevant to the case at hand.

Mr DAVIS – I understand that the practice note will be limited to the heads of power in the act—that is, the practice note cannot advance beyond the legal position that exists in the legislation, including with respect to this objectors clause.

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade)—As I am advised, the practice note is not bound by the legislation. It will be plain English advice for people.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan)—That adds to the confusion, because if the practice note can be plain legal advice and is not bound by the legislation, I think we are into new territory. Practice notes are necessarily limited to the powers available under the act.

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade)—I am not sure whether Mr Davis and I are on parallel tracks. Best practice is best practice, and so I am not sure whether we are getting stuck on semantics or whether I have genuinely misunderstood Mr Davis’s question or he has misunderstood my answer, both of which are conceivable. Nonetheless, best practice will be what is in the note for people to be able to utilise.

Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan)—On topics beyond the act.

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade)—In relation to the legislation.

Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan)—In terms of people who will be affected by these developments, the minister has not provided any clarity on how they may deal with these people. These are citizens who might not have the resources to take this all the way. Before they enter into this, can the minister give them some clarity through this bill on what a ‘significant social effect’ may be and how they may proceed?

Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade)—The issue of the significance of the term ‘social effect’ is that it already exists under the terms of the act, so I am not sure that I can add anything beyond that.