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Beyond the expected

Barr Knows Best?

By Skidbladnir - 26 August 2009 32

Who knows how to ensure that a major project is developed in accordance with 467 seperate Sections of ACT Law better than a man who has worked in the private sector as an account manager, media analyst and salesperson, and also former parliamentary adviser and Chief of Staff to a Labor Minister?


Apparently, with more 270 staff working for ACT Planning & Land Authority, the organisation still can’t be trusted to arrive at a reasonable decision on the single largest piece infrastructure the ACT has seen in years, so the Cotter Dam expansion has been called in by the Minister, Andrew Barr.

Who knew we had elected such sage and learned folk to the Assembly?

What’s Your opinion?

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32 Responses to
Barr Knows Best?
RayP 11:00 am 27 Aug 09

What seems to be missing in the Barr process is the public’s role in protecting the public interest. It neglects the role of the Environment Impact Assessment process in getting the environmental issues out in front of the public.

I think a better model, one which has been in place in WA, is one where an EIS is prepared and is then released for public comment and then an independent Environmental Protection Authority makes a public report with public recommendations. Then the Minister makes a decision, but in the context of the public EIS and the public EPA report and recommendations.

The Barr process seems to be one where the Minister makes decisions on the basis of internal advice from his Department. I find it surprising that Caf, Chewy14 and others have such confidence in Ministers and public servants to make decisions in the public interest.

(PS: the WA EPA and the EIS process tends to get shunted about with each change of government. The ALP in WA has tended to adopt the independent and public process.)

Clown Killer 9:10 am 27 Aug 09

Banging on about a failure of due process only attains relevance once it can established that the Minister is acting outside of the process as described in the relevant legislation … oh wait a minute, call in powers are clearly defined in the legislation, but that would make them part of the due process …

It’s also pretty easy to try and paint this as a lack of confidence in ACTPLAs ability to deliver the goods … if you ignored the very likely possibility that ACTPLA has recommended that the Minister use his call in powers.

The big issue here is surely that fact that the Government is still referring to the expanded Cotter Dam as a $200 million project when the members of the Bulk Water Alliance that are at the pointy end of the engineering and construction are privately adamant that you’re only going to get a little over half a dam for that sort of money … methinks that Minister Barr’s performances at future estimates committees is going to make rather interesting viewing.

chewy14 8:32 am 27 Aug 09

The planning process needs to be changed for big infrastructure or other large projects. As Caf says the Enviromental Assessment and EIS has already been completed and assessed. I don’t really like Barr, but he’s not making this decision randomly on a whim, he does have access to all the information available. For projects as important as this there has to be a way to shorten or improve the process.

And anyway the dam still has to be passed by Peter Garrett.

caf 12:00 am 27 Aug 09

According to Barr’s press release, the EIS and the EIS Assessment Report have been done:

As required under the Planning and Development Act 2007 ACTEW Corporation has undertaken an Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The ACT Planning and Land Authority has examined the EIS, prepared an Environmental Impact Statement Assessment Report (EISAR) and provided me with the report and their recommendations.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make above is that Barr is there, as an elected representative, to ensure that the public interest is maintained. There’s precious little public interest to be protected if I apply to extend my kitchen, but there’s public interest a-plenty when we’re talking about building a new water supply dam. Which is why it’s more appropriate for the Minister to be engaged in the latter rather than the former.

And remember that the ACTPLA only exercises power delegated from the Minister in the first place.

Thumper 10:08 pm 26 Aug 09

Although I agree with Skid, people must remember that the public service is there to advise the minister. He is under no obligation to follow that advice.

Granny 8:29 pm 26 Aug 09

I have no position on whether these things should or should not be called in, but I think if a minister needs to bypass their own people to get things happening then some heads should roll, or why else would there be a need to go around them?

If ACTPLA staff are professionals then large projects should be every bit as much their ‘ordinary’ business as small projects; just as people would expect any qualified tradesman to handle large or small jobs with equal competence (e.g. a carpenter should be just as qualified to build a house frame as to hang a door).

If ACTPLA are not up to the job, then why not, and how can anybody really be confident that those 467 separate Sections of ACT Law are being complied with?

I think the necessity to do this does undermine public confidence in ACTPLA, and also in the eventual planning decision.

baldilocks 7:56 pm 26 Aug 09

The use of the call in powers is an overt admission by Barr and the Government that
a) the ACT planning laws do not work; and
b) Barr has no confidence in ACTPLA, the very department he is responsible for; and
c) there is one set of standards for the “mates”, the big end of town, and a totally different set of laws and standards for the rest of the ACT community.

Under the circumstances, Barr should do the honorable thing and resign.

But don’t hold your breath that this will happen.

Pelican Lini 7:28 pm 26 Aug 09

Barr Humbug

housebound 6:22 pm 26 Aug 09

Hmmm, this is the second time Barr has used his call-in power this year. If the projects have the merit he says, then a normal DA process should present no problems. I would have to score this as an epic FAIL on following due process, but hey, it’s only process.

Skidbladnir 5:12 pm 26 Aug 09

If there was a time for letting the certified planning experts test the new EIS process and prove their qualifications, its a large project of public significance.

If the project is too big to not go ahead, and he’s already been vocally against political interference in planning processes, why bother being visibly hands-on when all he has is a B. Arts (Policy Studies)?

caf 4:59 pm 26 Aug 09

There is one thing that Barr has over those 270 undoubtedly fine public servants that you failed to mention – he was voted in to office by the Molonglo electorate.

If there’s anything the call-in powers were meant for, it was large projects of public significance like this. This isn’t your average application to erect a garden shed or build a block of cheap apartments. And it’s not like he’s making the decision in isolation – the Minister does still have access to all the reports and advice of ACTPLA on the proposal.

Clown Killer 4:48 pm 26 Aug 09

Lets be realistic about this. It’s not like this project is not going to go ahead – regardless of what the planning/environmental process throws in its path so Barr may as well call it in and sign off on it … there’s going to be wailing an gnashig of teeth from the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) crowd regardless. This way ACTPLA don’t have to waste resources dealing with the innevitable tripe that the regular process will through up.

Skidbladnir 4:29 pm 26 Aug 09

[Shane Rattenbury has responded online]

Why is Rattenbury (Greens’ Environment\Climate Change\Water portfolio holder) the only one responding about overuse of call-in powers in the Planning process (ie: Le Couteur’s area)?

Gungahlin Al 4:16 pm 26 Aug 09

So – “frivolous and vexatious objections” again?
What’s wrong with just letting the planners (the qualified experts) do their job?
This is politicising the planning process.
Why not just change it all over and make it like a Council, where every DA gets debated in the chambers?
There’s a reason why the process is meant to be at arm’s length here, so why is Andrew so quick to undermine it?

Skidbladnir 4:06 pm 26 Aug 09
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