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Questions about planning panels and the behavior of politicians

COMMENT: The NSW government’s backflip on amalgamation came with a twist; it was swiftly followed up with a move to remove council power to determine development applications above $5 million, which was supported by Labor.

Planning minister Anthony Roberts on his Facebook page said he was introducing legislation to “end the dodgy and dirty backroom deals that have gone on for far too long inside local councils”. He said IHAPs would mean “shonky developers” and their mates would not be able to flaunt power with elected councillors to get DAs through.

“To the lurk merchants and spivs who inhabit the dark corridors of council chambers across Sydney, your trade is done,” he said. “Get another job. The jig is up.”

While there have undoubtedly been issues in particular local councils regarding the undue influence of property developers, Greens senator David Shoebridge told us installing a planning panel in which the planning minister would be responsible for selecting the majority of its members was no great way to tackle corruption, as it effectively concentrated power in the minister.

“Nobody seriously believes that state politicians are more corruption proof than local councillors,” he said.

Wollondilly Council on the edge of Sydney’s south-west was appalled by Roberts’ statements, with its mayor Judith Hannan calling out his bluster.

“I am appalled by these inflammatory and inappropriate comments which defame local government and deeply insult the thousands of councillors who represent their communities with honesty, integrity and dedication,” she said, inviting Mr Roberts to show her a dodgy, corrupt backroom deal done by herself or her councillors.

Mr Shoebridge said you didn’t have to search particularly far to find examples of state minister corruption in planning. The latest newspaper should do.

Just last week we saw former Labor planning minister Tony  Kelly found, again, to have engaged in corrupt conduct by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

And a storm seems to be brewing in Melbourne with former planning minister, and now opposition leader Matthew Guy, embroiled in the “lobster with a mobster” scandal, which has already seen one Liberal scalp in staffer Barrie Macmillan.

While there are yet no allegations of corruption to emerge, and we don’t suggest Mr Guy engaged in corrupt conduct, the Victorian government released a list of 17 questions that needed to be answered regarding the scandal:

  1. Who chose the venue?
  2. Who organised the guest list?
  3. How many people attended – was it 20, 12, or seven?
  4. Who paid for the food and wine?
  5. What was discussed at the dinner?
  6. Was any potential rezoning of farmland in Melbourne’s south east discussed?
  7. Did Mr Guy make any promises about Liberal Party policy?
  8. Mr Guy said yesterday he didn’t drink any of the luxury Penfold Grange wine on offer, but today he has admitted he “had a sip”. What else about his story has changed from yesterday to today?
  9. Mr Guy has said Frank Lamattina organised the lobster dinner, but President of the Victorian Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, said it was Barrie Macmillan. Who is correct?
  10. Yesterday Mr Guy said he, “realise[d] the potential ramifications of it [the dinner] as soon as I got in my car.” Why didn’t he immediately alert authorities or refer the dinner to IBAC?
  11. Mr Guy has agreed to release all correspondence and other records about this affair to IBAC, will he now make them public?
  12. Does Mr Guy stand by his claim that, “there have been no donations from any of those people, certainly in my time as leader, in fact in my time as Planning Minister I understand as well”?
  13. If so, can Mr Guy explain why Mr Kroger is reported as saying today, “no disclosable donations have been made from any of these (people) since Matthew Guy has been in parliament”?
  14. Will Mr Guy immediately instruct the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party to release its list of donations to ensure no donations have been received from Mr Madafferi or any other people with alleged links to organised crime?
  15. Given Mr Guy has now stated that IBAC “can have whatever they want”, will he immediately release all documents relating to the Fishermans Bend rezoning scandal, where Liberal donors made huge windfalls as a result of Mr Guy’s planning decision?
  16. Given Mr Guy has now stated that IBAC “can have whatever they want”, will he immediately release all documents relating to Ventnor, where his initial decision would have delivered another huge windfall to a member of the Liberal Party?
  17. Given Mr Guy claims he has “broken no laws” with regard to this scandal, can he make the same claim about his role in the Fishermans Bend or Ventnor scandals?

Panels could be good news with the right structure

But back to planning panels, the Planning Institute of Australia is cautiously optimistic, but it all depends on how the panels are structured and selected.

“We would support the panels being made up of highly qualified professionals such as registered planners,” PIA NSW Jenny Rudolph said.

“Panels must also have set criteria that will manage conflicts of interest of panel members to ensure the process is clear, inclusive and transparent for the community. We must have a planning system that is trusted by the community it services.”

She said the PIA was available to help allay probity concerns.

“PIA will offer to assist with the development of the criteria for the panel to ensure probity, transparency and consultation. This will include ensuring the right people are picked for the panels, and PIA can assist to train panels accordingly.”

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