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Law Reform ·

Planning Bills don’t strengthen protection for koalas and other critters

27 May, 2016

Planning Bills better for public participation, transparency and accountability. However, overall these Bills maintain the status quo on environmental protection.

11 May 2016 the Queensland Parliament passed the Government’s suite of Planning Bills. These Bills are not expected to come into effect until mid-2017 to allow Queensland to adjust to the new system.

The Planning Bills are clearly better for public participation, transparency and accountability than what the State opposition was proposing, with some amendments to improve accountability, transparency and certainty. However, overall these Bills maintain the status quo on environmental protection, which is not good enough given how our planning system is failing to protect nature, such as clearly failing our koalas in SE Queensland.

EDO Qld recently held a LawJam on the new planning framework in Brisbane. Download the presentation slides from our presenters here:

Chief Executive Officer of EDO Qld and solicitor Jo Bragg says: "the Planning Bills, as amended, are better than what the State opposition was proposing; however, that is not good enough.

"There are some improvements to public participation, transparency and accountability. However, the community is not happy with developers being able to choose assessment managers to decide their applications (the safeguards against conflict of interest are not convincing), or with vague criteria for developers to gain exemption certificates from regular assessment.

"We are gravely concerned that there is no clear guidance either in the legislation, or in State policies, as to what development needs to go into the impact assessable category with public notification and appeal rights, as this means we will probably continue to see an ever increasing volume of developments in the code assessable category where the community is not even notified.

"In particular, these reforms do not strengthen environmental protection, compared to what we had under Premier Anna Bligh, which is not good enough given how our planning system is failing to protect nature, such as clearly failing our koalas in South East Queensland."

See our notes on the good and bad features of the Bill below

EDO Qld thanks all those community members who put in powerful submissions to urge the government to better provide for meaningful community consultation and stronger environmental protections. Your submissions are why we had some improvements in the Bill.

There will be some key opportunities to get your concerns heard - for example to improve the supporting instruments, including the SEQ Regional Plan, the State Planning Policy and the Planning Regulation.

Notes on the good and bad features of the Bill

The good

  • The general rule that each party pay their own costs in the Planning and Environment Court has been returned, removing one barrier to community participation;
  • The power to approve code assessable development even where it does not comply with any assessment benchmarks has been removed from the Bill by an amendment;
  • There have been some improvements to public notification, including providing that a regulation may specify a public notification period of greater than 15 business days. This suggests that we will see restoration of a regulation requiring at least 30 business days public notification for a list or more sensitive or high risk/complex development;
  • There has been some strengthening of the role of the Queensland Heritage Council and heritage assessment.

The bad

  • The required improvements to environmental protections have not been provided; there are no requirements for baseline assessments of environmental values, or performance indicators to demonstrate how well measures to protect our environmental values are operating. A recently released report from the University of Queensland has demonstrated that koala populations have declined by approximately 80% in the Koala Coast and 54% in Pine Rivers between 1996 and 2014 under our current planning framework. The Bills passed last night do nothing to improve the future of our koalas, or our other critters and ecosystems;
  • Specialist agencies have not had their concurrence agency powers, taken away under the previous government, restored – so their views are not required to be followed by the Department of Planning. The relevant expertise of specialist agencies must be a required component of planning decision making that is not able to be ignored, to ensure that decisions are made on the best available expertise;
  • Exemption certificates are introduced to allow a development to be certified as exempt from needing assessment and approval (and therefore also exempt from any notification to the community) where broad, vague criteria are met. The reasons for why an exemption certificate was provided are at least now required to be published and available to the public;
  • Developers can still choose their own assessment managers. At very least, some measures have been implemented to address conflicts of interest that may arise around chosen assessment managers. However, the issue of assessment managers getting too close and familiar with developers is still real.

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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