Don’t laugh, this is precisely what the White Paper can do to you. In depaNews in August we ran with the theme that the new planning system was all about certainty for developers and the removal of protection and checks and balances for everyone else. But that’s what everyone said. Apart from the developers and their lobby groups, who sat quietly and smugly for fear of revealing their excitement.

The Green Paper released last year was an opportunity for a new Government to step aside from the sycophantic kowtowing to developers, the tawdry partiality and the political favouritism that had been the hallmark of the latter years of the previous Government. One of the O’Farrell Government’s first initiatives in planning, to repeal the infamous Part 3A, was welcomed as a qualitative change - restoring the primary role of local government in establishing planning instruments and managing development within the terms of those local plans, and not having the big jobs ripped from their grasp.

But the Green Paper didn’t deliver on restoring planning control to local government and preserving checks and balances for the community. It pushed the removal of both public consultation and input into individual applications and the need for a re-zoning for a development that didn’t comply with the planning instrument. As you all know, something that doesn’t comply with the planning instrument faces checks and balances to require a Council to consider a rezoning application to allow it. And a rezoning application allows the community to have a say.

But the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the current system didn’t provide the sort of certainty that developers wanted. As expected, responses to the Green Paper from the community and local government were overwhelmingly antagonistic - and who would have thought otherwise? Everyone has a legitimate interest in what happens where they choose to live. Or to work.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of people wanting to look after their local area. The last refuge of the developer wanting to create something dreadful is sneering “NIMBYism”, and thereby trivialising the legitimacy of having an interest in your own local area, where you choose to live, have families and educate them, and establish a good quality life.

Or a Government intent on giving developers a free kick.

1997 vs 2013

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard MP is responsible for all of this. The Minister has been around a long time and watched Labor, with Minister Craig Knowles, crash through and reduce community consultation and environmental protections through the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Amendment) Bill 1997. You know, the piece of legislation which, amongst other things, introduced exempt and complying development and fostered private certifiers.

This is the legislation that depa and a selection of other local government and environmental groups fought so vigourously and, amongst other things, resulted in us being pilloried by Minister Knowles in his Second Reading speech on 15 October 1997 - claiming that our concerns that the White Paper “reforms would diminish opportunities for public participation and objection and would reduce the role of local government” were both “wrong and misrepresent the facts.” Gee Craig, history showed we were right.

But while we have had a consistent response to a cascade of reforming processes, others haven’t. Like Brad, for example. Sometimes it’s good to have a mind like a steel trap and lurking in our office was an extract from Hansard on 17 October 1997. Just sitting quietly and waiting for its moment in the sun. You can see the extract here, but here are some things Mr Hazzard said, and probably wishes he hadn’t:

  • The Minister the Urban Affairs and Planning would be concerned to find that the development next door to him has been constructed which he wished he had known was going to be built so that he could have some say in it. That is a key issue in respect of this legislation. It is about the community’s right to know what is happening in the local area.
  • There has to be more that satisfies local residents that they will have an ongoing say such that they can approve or not approve of a particular development on their very boundary.
  • The single biggest challenge for New South Wales is to get the planning right, such that our environment is protected.
  • The environment has to be an absolute priority.
  • We also want to ensure that the environment is given priority. What is the point in having jobs and development if people do not have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink water or to use in myriad other ways?
  • I was extremely disappointed that the Minister did not take into account community concern and environmental concern.
  • They are good. They are the protectors of the environment of New South Wales - an observation in relation to the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council and we can’t wait to see what those two bodies say.
  • The Minister should hang his head in shame. He should have been embarrassed to introduce this legislation into this House.
  • But the legislation will not guarantee that any development undertaken by the Minister’s next-door neighbour will suit him. In effect, the Minister has killed community consultation.
  • When a private certifier is ticking off the boxes for some development next door to the Minister, the Minister will acknowledge that he got it wrong.
  • We will be out in the community with environmental groups making sure the world knows that the Carr Government has failed in appropriately marrying environmental protection with development.

Ooooh Minister, that’s a bit embarrassing. We like the old Brad and to use another of his quotes in that debate where he was referring to Craig Knowles, “the Minister is not a bad bloke, but he has simply got this legislation wrong”.

What is it about politicians? How can they get it right in 1997 and so obviously get it wrong in 2013? We challenge the Minister, what do you really think, what you said in 1997 or what you are saying now?

If you changed your mind, and the environment, and the community, and the rights of neighbours are now less important, please explain. We will publish your response unedited.

We do, however, reserve our rights on illustrating it.


Proposed changes to the Workers Compensation Act introduced in a bill into the Legislative Assembly by Minister for Finance Services Greg Pearce yesterday are even worse than foreshadowed in the May issue of depaNews and were described by the Secretary of UnionsNSW Mark Lennon as “appalling”.

"Whether it be caps on medical payments, the ability to get lump-sum compensation, the removal of journey claims, it is simply an appalling attack on workers benefits", he said.  depa is an affiliate to UnionsNSW and we couldn't agree more. It's a huge erosion of your rights at work and protection for sick and injured workers. 

But what makes it all worse is that the proposed changes are now announced to be retrospective and will affect claims already in the system. This, in itself, is unprecedented.

We argued for better management of the system and more control of costs in May but with the Shooters and the Christian Democrats (the Fred Nile group) having already given the principles the nod, we can expect the bill to be legislated in the next week or so and within the current financial year.  (Odd bedfellows you might think but it could be worse - the Shooters might want to shoot sick and injured workers and the Christian Democrats might want to pray for them.)

There are many, many examples of people whose lives are ruined by injuries at work but now, if you get injured on your way to work or your way home, however that occurs and whomever is responsible for the accident, you will not be covered by workers compensation. Sitting quietly at a set of traffic lights on your way to start work and you get rear-ended by someone paying less attention, and you will be on your own.

It's more than appalling, it's disgraceful. The Liberal/National Party Coalition always rails against the links between Labor and the union movement and cries "class war" in response to open and logical debate about things like mining taxes, the ability of millionaires/billionaires to avoid their taxation obligations etc but no-one wages class war like the Coalition.

Anyone can be injured at work and anyone can be injured on their way to or from work. Contact your local member, particularly if they are a member of the Coalition Government, and tell them it's not fair. Ask them to explain why accidents that occur only because you are a worker travelling to or from work should be removed from coverage under the Workers Compensation Act.
 

What is it with the GMs at councils in the Hunter region? How could they not be benign and contented people with all that fabulous Hunter Valley semillon and shiraz? Why is it that when the Commission recommended that they provide details to depa to allow us to have an informed debate about what really happened in the trial of the Industry Guidelines at the five councils, that the four Hunter Councils refused to supply the information?

It would be easy to say that the GMs don't understand that to have an informed debate you need information. It could be that they've been snowed by HR Managers who want to assert that there is evidence of a deterrent effect but don't want to back that up by providing proper evidence.  It could be of course, that they know there is no evidence but they want to keep asserting it anyway.

Debate and disagreement continues between the LGSA and the unions about how the Industry Guidelines, agreed between all of us and tested in the trial in the last six months or so of last year, should be changed as a result of the trial. When the Industry Guidelines were prepared there was unanimous agreement between the LGSA and the three unions that random drug testing only had a place for employees who had already tested positive either in a post-incident or reasonable-suspicion test. But the LGSA and the USU at some stage during the trial (and even before the survey of employees participating in the trial) changed the view to support random testing being an option for everyone - not based on risk, not based on reasonable suspicion, not based on incidents. Both organisations claimed that there was evidence that having random testing deterred many people from doing things they had historically done.

We are open-minded. We entered the trial with no expectation at all about what would be discovered but, like everyone else, were a bit surprised when the random testing regime chosen as an "option" for the trial by the five councils didn't turn up anyone.  No drugs anywhere, and no alcohol positive testing either.

The Minister for Primary Industry in the NSW Government is Katrina Hodgkinson and in response to a request from the new Minister for some better and more equal gender representation on the NSW Food Regulation Forum, we invited female members to apply in the March depaNews.  And we received a few expressions of interest too. Thanks to those who gave us a call.

The Committee of Management in May resolved to continue our representation through President Andrew Spooner and to appoint food safety activist Jody Houston from Manly Council.

We welcome and thank Jody for her interest.

 

Those of you who keep an eye on BPB Bulletins would have noticed in the last one that the BPB had met with depa as part of their feedback to stakeholders about the recent barnstorming of the State on proposed changes to the accrediting of Council employees.

We (VP Jamie Loader, Committee of Management member Jim Boyce and I) met with representatives of the Board (Neil Cocks, Jonathon Lynch and consultant Rosemary Naughton) on 5 June and, amongst other things, put to them the feedback we have been receiving from members about the need to review the March 2013 deadline.

We subsequently formalised this request and supported the selection of five or six councils, broadly representative of councils across the state, where the real implications of the proposed changes in March 2013 could be tested. This has been referred by the Board to the Policy Committee which meets in the next week or so.

 

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