Australia: Another twist in Queensland's planning reform – 3 Private Members Bills

Introduction

On 4 June 2015, the Hon. Tim Nicholls of the Liberal National Party (LNP) (Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Planning, Small Business, Employment and Trade) introduced three private members' Bills to the Queensland Parliament:

  1. Planning and Development (Planning for Prosperity) Bill;
  2. Planning and Development (Planning Court) Bill; and
  3. Planning and Development (Planning for Prosperity- Consequential Amendments) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.

(the LNP's Bills or Bills).

The tabling of the LNP's Bills comes only weeks after the Government's planning reform policy "Better Planning for Queensland – Next Steps in Planning Report Directions Paper" was released.

This article compares the LNP's Bills with the Queensland Government's Planning Reform Policy and looks at some of the key differences between them.

LNP's Bills

The Bills were, for the most part, prepared when the LNP were in power between 2012 to early 2015. Earlier versions of the Bills had been introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 1 August 2014, but they subsequently lapsed after the LNP lost government in the election held earlier this year. The provisions in the Bills tabled on 4 June 2015 are largely unchanged.

The Bills propose to repeal the current Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) and replace it with a new statutory regime.

In doing so, the Bills retain some of the fundamental principles of Queensland's planning system under the SPA. They include:

  1. retaining an integrated development assessment system;
  2. managing planning processes at the State, regional and local levels; and
  3. preserving the core elements of plan making, development assessment and dispute resolution.

However, the Bills propose important changes to the current SPA regime:

  1. the purpose of the planning legislation has been refined to focus on delivering prosperity for Queensland;
  2. the plan making procedures are proposed to be simplified and scheme amendments process shortened;
  3. the categories of development assessment are proposed to be remodelled to:
    1. "Prohibited Development" (unchanged from the SPA);
    2. "Accepted Development" (currently 'exempt' or 'self-assessment' in the SPA);
    3. "Standard Assessment" (currently 'code assessment' in the SPA);
    4. "Merits Assessment" (currently 'impact assessment' in the SPA);
  1. not all "Merits Assessment" applications (intended for the more complex developments that may involve development impacts and/or conflicts with a planning scheme) are required to be publicly notified, instead it is proposed to leave it up to local governments through their planning schemes to determine whether such applications are to be publicly notified and subject to third party appeal rights;
  2. provisions dealing with development assessment rules and many of the procedural elements currently in the SPA are proposed to be removed from the main Planning Act and included in subordinate legislation; and
  3. provisions constituting the Planning and Environment Court are proposed to be removed from the Planning Act and incorporated into a new and separate Act.

Private Members' Bills – What are they?

A private members' bill is one that is introduced by a backbencher or opposition Member of Parliament, in his or her own capacity, rather than a government sponsored bill.

Private members' bills are an important cornerstone of a representative democracy, as they provide the opportunity for any elected Member of Parliament to introduce a bill to Parliament to be debated, including on issues that may not be on the agenda of the Government of the day. It is particularly interesting in this instance, given the current Government has recently released its Planning Reform Directions Paper (discussed below).

In most cases, a private members' bill is doomed to fail, unless the member is able to obtain the Government's support. This is because the Government will usually have the numbers to pass or reject the bill and will ultimately be responsible for administering and funding the legislation, should it pass and become law.

The Queensland Government's Planning Reform Policy

The Queensland Government released its Planning Reform Directions Paper on 25 May 2015 (Directions Paper).

The Directions Paper confirms that the Government also proposes to introduce a new planning reform legislative package in the form of three bills. This suggests that the Government intends to draw on the reform work undertaken by the former LNP government, rather than start again from scratch.

However, the Directions Paper highlights some important differences. In particular, the Government propose to:

  1. consult further about any changes to the categories of assessable development under the SPA (i.e. 'self', 'code' and 'impact') and ensure the link between publicly notified development applications and third party appeal rights is retained;
  2. scale back the costs jurisdiction of the Planning and Environment Court, which was introduced as an amendment to the SPA under the previous LNP government;
  3. increase penalties for committing development offences; and
  4. attach enforcement notices to land and on property titles.

Conclusion

The LNP's Bills have been referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee for review. They are unlikely to progress much further without bipartisan or cross-bench support. The closing date for the public to make written submissions on the Bills is 4pm, Monday 13 July 2015. The Government has indicated that it will release its planning reform legislative package for consultation later this year.

With both sides of Parliament now seemingly walking away from the SPA, it will be interesting to see what direction Queensland's planning system takes over the coming weeks and months.

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Authors
Ben Harvey
 
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