Thursday 28 February 2008

Iconic legsilation hits parliament

Douglas Shire Councillor Rod Davis, and candidate for Division 10 in the Cairns Regional Council election, watches the iconic debate for his Shire.

The iconic legislation for Douglas and Noosa has been like a slippery, football…everyone is kicking it around, and no one can catch the ball. I’m going to take a mark, and catch the damn thing, as much as its far from perfect, its nota bad start, and in between long raves with Jason as to why we are too annoyed to accept his kind $150 donation, I was willing to hear him out on the Iconic legislation, and one of the few, and maybe the only Douglas Councillor to say, OK, I’m OK with the plan, lest give it a try.

My basic support stems from the independent process to assess development applications, something all councils everywhere should consider, as the political football that is the process of getting a DA, is second only to corrupt third world process, just rebranded in flasher suits. The mess that is Australian town planning results from councillor bending to favor the latest lobbyist pressure, whereas I argue councillors should only make town plans, not administer them.

If councillor were prevented from planning at the pub, Australia would be a better place.

Jason rhetorically asked, is this the thin of the wedge , in terms of the State having all DA’s handled independently, and he retorted with a definite yes, it is the thin end of the wedge, and I support his mad axmen, but morally and technically spot on policy. I say drive the wedge deep into crook powers of councillors, and make a clear line between those who make the law, and those who administer it. The LGAQ will disagree. Most councillors will disagree. But all good ideas are at first ridiculed. Then all of a sudden, the same idea is taken as a given.

With both Cairns and Gold Coast Councils be sponged for developer funded campaigns, there needs to be more separation of power, between those elected, and those wanting favors.
So, awkward as the iconic legislation is, it is a step in the right direction, warts and all.

Here is Jason Cook’s speech to State Parliament…

  • I rise to unreservedly support the Iconic Queensland Places Bill.

    In August 2007 the government made a commitment to prepare new legislation to give greater protection to the state’s nationally and internationally recognised natural icons located in the areas of new regional councils. This commitment addressed concerns that distinguishing characteristics of local government areas may be overlooked by larger regional councils proposed by the local government reform.

    This is an important bill that will afford strong levels of protection to the planning schemes and local laws that make places like the Douglas shire in my electorate special. Surrounded by the Wet Tropics and the Daintree rainforests, the townships of Port Douglas, Mossman and, more recently, the beach suburbs of Wonga and Cooya Beach have grown considerably and rapidly over the past 20

    years. Generally speaking, the council has handled the rapid growth well, though in Port Douglas there is a glaring exception with a large waterfront development currently nearing completion.

    The community has raised concerns about protecting the integrity of these places due to the amalgamation of councils. The Iconic Queensland Places Bill addresses those concerns by providing the opportunity to identify places that contribute substantially to Queensland’s character by their natural or built environmental qualities. One of the key components of a declaration is the

    characteristics or qualities of the place’s natural or built environment that reflect or substantially contribute to Queensland’s character. Those characteristics or qualities are known as the place’s iconic values.

    The intent of this legislation is to ensure that current councils have the opportunity to seek protection for their iconic values through specific mechanisms offered in the bill. New regional councils will be required to take iconic values of a declared iconic place into consideration in planning scheme processes, local law processes and the implementation of development decisions. However, the state

    government is not making it mandatory for local governments to pursue a declaration for an iconic place. Local governments may or may not choose to pursue a declaration. The declaration of an iconic place is only applicable to local governments affected by the amalgamations.

    Community support for the proposed declaration is an important consideration and there has been lengthy involvement by the Douglas shire community in the development of its planning schemes. Over a number of years there has been significant effort by the Douglas shire community to protect environmental interests through its planning schemes. Prior to the iconic places legislation, the state government had a lengthy involvement in this community through the development and adoption of Douglas shire’s planning schemes, and strong community interest in the protection of the environment was evident, particularly in the Daintree.

    There has been ongoing detailed engagement with the mayor of Douglas shire as the primary representative of the Douglas Shire Council since the government made its commitment to this legislation in August 2007. Engagement has extended to a range of key stakeholder community groups in the shire that have, during consultation, also indicated their support for the legislation. The Deputy

    Premier attended a community meeting in the Douglas shire to discuss the proposed iconic places legislation. This was followed with further attendance by officers from the Department of Infrastructure and Planning who assisted at a further community meeting about the proposed legislation. Clearly there

    is community support in the shire for the legislation, as evidenced by their interest and involvement in this legislation.

    The planning provisions that protect iconic values will be identified and protected through this legislation. Once a declaration of an iconic place is made, the legislation ensures that the place’s iconic values are considered in two key aspects of the planning and development assessment framework: planning scheme making and development assessment. The declaration also ensures that the place’s iconic values are considered in the local law-making framework and in general policy making by councils. The legislation ensures that in its decision making council will have regard to the iconic values of the declared place, reflecting the community’s interest.

    It is true to say that there has been some minor public criticism of the bill. We have heard some of that reflected in statements made by the member for Noosa and the opposition spokesman on the legislation. The member for Warrego labelled it ‘too bureaucratic’. I struggle to understand this line of argument given that the only practical change is that, instead of going to councillors for a decision, the development application goes to the independent assessment panel. Of course, it is a different matter to change the planning scheme or a local law, but these are generally lengthy processes anyway that require considerable public input.

    However, even if the detractors are right and the bill does add a level of complexity to the process, is that not a good thing? Are we not talking about Queensland places worthy of higher order protection? Does anyone think these places are not worth a bit of extra time to ensure their ongoing uniqueness? That is what we are trying to achieve here. The member for Warrego said that we should have a quick and easy development and assessment planning process. However, I do not know that protecting iconic values or environmental values goes hand in hand with a quick and easy development assessment process.

    There has also been some criticism of the concept of independent assessment panels. The member for Noosa echoed some of those concerns in his contribution today. Some of the criticism has also come from the LGAQ, but I have only read that in secondary sources so it may not be correct.

    Nevertheless, I think independent assessment panels are a matter that this parliament should consider in more detail at a future date.

    As a former Cairns city councillor and now as a member of this House, the more I hear about independent assessment panels the more I like the concept. I will briefly explain why I think they are an important reform.

    The reality is that the administration of public affairs in this country is achieved at a very high standard. However, there are a number of high-risk areas that require a higher level of oversight to ensure the integrity of the governing systems. One of the greatest risks at the local level is the ability of councillors to decide on and corrupt the decision-making process. No doubt we all know of examples where the local council has used a simple majority of its members to overturn its planning scheme and/or the recommendations of officers. Later it is discovered that the proponent of the development is a significant contributor to some or all of the very councillors overturning the planning scheme. It is hard to prove that there is direct corruption, but instances like that certainly smell.

    Therefore, in the long run it will be deemed appropriate for councils to set the planning scheme while independent assessment panels will decide impact assessable applications. This process will go a long way to removing the temptation, the opportunity and the perception of corruption. The reality is that

    those people who want to protect what is fantastic about their local area will be in a stronger position than if amalgamations did not proceed. The communities of Noosa and the old Douglas shire will be in a stronger position to protect their iconic values than they would have been if amalgamations did not proceed.

    There is a no guarantee that the Noosa and Douglas shire councils would not have elected pro-development councils that would not have protected the areas’ iconic values. I know that the former minister, Desley Boyle, had to bring the old Douglas Shire Council kicking and screaming to the table to protect the Daintree rainforest, which is the oldest and most biodiverse rainforest on the face of the

    planet. The Douglas Shire Council was brought to table kicking and screaming to protect that important area. There is no guarantee that on 15 March the people would not have elected, knowingly or unknowingly, a rabidly pro-development council. There would be no guarantee that the iconic values would have been protected. Now there is. Now, because of this legislation and the process

    of amalgamation, residents have a guarantee they would not have otherwise had. I think what we need to consider with Noosa and Port Douglas, and the Douglas shire in general, is that these are fantastic areas. These are areas that tourists want to flock to and that people want to migrate to because there are great opportunities there for business and work. In many ways they run the

    risk of becoming victims of their own success. Everybody wants a piece of paradise. Everybody wants a piece of the action. That puts enormous pressure on councils to approve development and to accommodate growth in those areas. I think this is a much better way of addressing those growth issues.

    The reality is that for a small council, such as the Douglas shire-and I suspect it is the same for Noosa as well-to deal with that pressure is incredibly difficult. Let us face it: the developers can afford better lawyers and better planners than what the council can afford. In places like Port Douglas, with the development that I was talking about earlier the planners have used every loophole. They have driven through the planning scheme to gain the most opportunity and the most benefit for the proponents of the development. What we are seeing on the foreshore of the Douglas shire now with the Coconut Grove development is an absolutely awful development that is completely out of character with the rest of the development that has proceeded over the last 20 years on the foreshore of Four Mile Beach. That is the difficulty that the old Douglas shire council faced: lawyers and proponents for development badger and use whatever power they have to get the council to agree to their development. We have to remember that it takes only four councillors in the Douglas shire to overturn their planning scheme and to overturn recommendations of officers based on that planning scheme.

    So what we have now under this legislation is much stronger protection than would have been afforded to those areas before. I think it is fantastic legislation. I commend the bill to the House.

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