Double standards on regional planning panels

By Angela Dorizas

New South Wales councils have warned that a double standard exists in the rules underpinning the integrity of the new Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPP). 

The Local Government and Shires Associations of New South Wales have called for state appointed members on the planning panels to declare their pecuniary interests up front.

While the Local Government Act requires that councillors publicly declare all pecuniary interests, the Planning Minister Kristina Keneally has taken a far less comprehensive approach for state appointed members.

Local Government Association president, Cr Genia McCaffery, said lax provisions allowed state government appointed members to only declare conflicts of interest when they felt they had become pertinent to the development approval at hand.

“They don’t have to provide all the declarations the way a councillor is required to,” Cr McCaffery told GovernmentNews.

“Given the unaccountability of the state appointed members – they’re not elected – they in fact need more rigorous rules than the council. They’re absolutely unaccountable to anybody except the Minister.”

Cr McCaffery said the requirements for local government were “quite onerous” but should be applied across the board.

“It just doesn’t make sense to have two sets of rules,” she said.

Cr McCaffery said the Minister’s response to local government’s concerns was “absolutely inadequate” and warned that the community had begun asking questions about the discrepancy in disclosure rules.

NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon sad there were a number of loopholes within the JRPP system, including the rules for local government members.

“An independent councillor who may have just taken a small donation from a developer is disqualified from making decisions,” Ms Rhiannon said.

“They could be siting beside a Labor or a Liberal councillor whose party has taken hundreds of thousands – what would amount over the years to millions of dollars – from that same developer, but because those donations have been funnelled through the head office they can then make decisions of developments that have come forward from that developer.”

Ms Rhiannon said reform of election funding must coincide with changes to the state’s planning laws.

“The foundation of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act was unique in that it built in the right of the community to have a say,” she said.

“With the successive weakening of that legislation it has been gutted. On the bulk of those amendments the Coalition has voted with the Labor government. Both those parties have received massive donations.

“It is really outrageous how that has played out.”

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