Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
It’s D-day for democracy, developers and design
Deserve schmerve. I don’t believe in deserve. Deserve is for children and advertising, as in do it (own it, lick it, eat it) because you deserve it. I mean, by what bizarre balance sheet do the people of Darfur deserve to be chopped up and burnt while we worry over sleep apnoea and interest rates? Deserve, without some godly guarantee, is meaningless. And yet, despite all that, I can’t help feeling there is truth in the adage that we get the governments we deserve.
Last week’s planning legislation is an obvious but hardly solitary example. Madame le Maire (la Mere) Clover Moore told Parliament this was “the worst legislation I have seen in 20 years”. Then she told them why. It took a while. And Clover is not alone. The lawyer and planner John Mant, a veteran of planning-law reform across Australia, opened a recent speech with these words: “The minister’s reforms are infantile. They remind me of a schoolyard loser who sets up an alternative game on the other side of the playground.”
Provocative, sure. Enough to extract a parliamentary response. “It is classic Mant,” drawled the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, affecting unconcern. “He always uses that language. It is just Mant.”
In fact it’s totally not classic Mant. A self-described “ex-Labor apparatchik”, John Mant has advised ministers back to Tom Uren (in the golden days of Whitlam’s Department of Urban and Regional Development, fondly known as DURD), convened Paul Keating’s Urban Design Task Force, served as an ICAC commissioner and, in various high-level capacities, devised many of the models on which the NSW system is based.
He is, simply, Australia’s leading expert on development control. So “just Mant” doesn’t quite capture it.
Mant’s criticisms of the new legislation include conflicts of interest, undue ministerial control, loss of impartiality and the expectation that the legal profession – which the bill is trying to exclude from planning – will have a field day. “If this goes through,” he told the ABC’s Quentin Dempster, “the minister will have a statue [erected to him] in Phillip Street.” Especially now, he adds, when “the Planning Bar is doing it tough”.
And yet this warty new law was ramrodded through the lower house in the wee hours of Wednesday. And the clamour? The outcry? Well, precisely.
Sartor told Quentin Dempster on the same program that member surveys from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the Planning Institute of Australia showed majority support for these changes.
They would. These reforms are largely developer-driven and, uh, remind me, who do architects and planners work for?
Sharing the Stateline screen, for instance, was Julie Bindon, NSW division president of the planning institute. That’s not her only hat. She also heads the planning firm JBA, whose client list includes most of the big developers in town, from Stockland (for whom Bindon is running the very controversial Sandon Point development) to Leightons, Westfield, Macquarie Bank and Australand.
Onscreen, as president, Bindon appeared to oppose the changes, calling for “a full and proper public inquiry”. What neither Mant nor Dempster could have known, but Bindon and Sartor must have, was that she had eight days earlier approved the official submission, assuring the minister that “the institute has generally supported the proposals”.
Just as the urban taskforce was designed to look like a public interest body while selling special developer-access to government ears, the new law is designed to look fairer, but be less fair.
The removal of legal recourse is packaged as providing cheaper dispute resolution for “mum and dad developers”. But Sartor has been at war with councils and the Land and Environment Court since his lord mayoral days. He’s really replacing a system of arbitrators he cannot control – councillors and judges – with a system of hired consultants, summarily sackable by him, no reason given.
It’s meant to stop third party anti-development challenges, like Matthew Drake-Brockman’s against Frasers’ development on Broadway or Peter Gray’s appeal against the Anvil Hill mine approval. But in setting up a whole new quasi-legal system of its own it’ll probably, says Mant, just further complicate the time-wasting legal bird’s nest that is NSW planning. Hence the statue.
Parliament’s own Legislation Review Committee worries at this “undue trespass on the right of procedural fairness and access to justice”. But the same wolf in sheep’s clothing approach has characterised the bill all along; from the first $250-a-place gathering last August to the exile-by-committee treatment of Sylvia Hale’s Planning Bill (drafted to restore community input, bring Part 3A projects under environmental controls and ban developers’ political donations) to the faux-urgency of this latest bill’s parliamentary passage.
And so to the upper house, where the legislation now rests on the whim of the Shooters Party’s John Tingle (who will of course transcend his own need for ministerial approval of the Southern Highlands shooting range expansion) and good old Fred Nile.
What, Nile may ask himself, are our just “desserts”? Pudding may be what we want but, four elections later, this bodgie, self-saucing government looks a lot like what we deserve.
Wednesday’s article “It’s D-day for democracy, developers and design” incorrectly said John Tingle represents the Shooters Party in the NSW Legislative Council. He left Parliament in 2006. Robert Brown and Roy Smith now represent the party.