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Victoria’s awful new Major Transport Projects Facilitation Laws - Notes from EDO workshop

Edited from some Notes from Environment Defenders Office workshop Tuesday 29 September 2009 on:

Victoria’s new Major Transport Projects Facilitation Legislation

Passed September 2009

The keynote speaker at this occasion was Ms Nicola Rivers Law Reform and Policy Director at Environment Defenders Office

EDO Introduction

• There was no consultation with environment groups or the public in the drafting of this legislation, now passed and in law. EDO considers this improper and outrageous. And this legislation requires no environmental assessment for projects. The Premier decided that major transport projects should be fast-tracked, and pushed this Bill through.

• Only two assessments are required: 1) Impact Management Plan (IMP), and 2) Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS), neither requires an environmental assessment or Panel Hearing or public consultation. EPA can advise on the IMP and CIS but the Planning Minister is not required to accept their advice.

• Vic Urban is the Proponent. The Planning Minister will appoint an Assessment Committee and also decide the Terms of Reference.

• The CIS will have a formal Hearing.

• With Transport Projects, the Minister declares the Project area, can override Councils, and authorise compulsory acquisition of land or property.

Brian Walters, barrister, President of Protectors of Public Lands, Greens candidate

This is what the observer gleaned from Brian Walters Greens Candidate's contribution to the workshop:

• A Major Project could include a road, bus stop or car park.

• No decisions by the Planning Minister are reviewable, except in Section 77. The Legislation wording says ‘must’ this and that throughout. The passage and content of this Legislation is undemocratic, against the spirit of Westminster, and autocratic, with the community rendered powerless servants!

• The Victorian Parliament makes its own constitution and can amend it; there is no watchdog.

• Section 77, sub-section ?, says the Planning Minister must have ‘regard’ to applicable laws, not that he must comply with or obey the laws. So, the Minister is a law unto himself.

• Jeff Kennett, at the height of his hubris, would not have dared to introduce such legislation!

• Section 29 has provision for brief public comment on a Project (4 weeks?), but, if comment is sought, this is inadequate time to read and assess volumes of reports.

• The community has been too successful in stopping, slowing or modifying projects, so this Legislation is a clamp down to keep them out of the process.

Ashley Cook, Vic Dept Transport

• Transport Projects are taking longer and longer, up to 2 years, so we need to advance the progress. Standards will be maintained and there will be a robust process for Major Transport Projects.

• An IMP is only to be used in very limited circumstances, and approvals do not require public consultation, eg. for road widening.

• The CIS has a Preliminary Hearing, high level of exposure and exhibition (not consultation).

• The Bill reserves the right to judicial review of the Planning Minister’s final decision.

• Under Sections 245 and 251, the Assessment Committee of experts ‘can’ seek outside comments.

Ian Shepherd, Vic Dept Transport

Impressions gleaned from Ian Shepherd's comments:

• This Bill not just about roads (in reply to cries that this Legislation is about fast-tracking and putting in roads that people don’t want, and for Port of Hastings).

Paul ?, Vic Dept Transport

• With an IMP, the Planning Minister ‘can’ direct consultation. Both IMP and CIS include environmental consideration component. The (State) Government has to respond to the challenges emerging.

Q. People must put a mandate to the (State) Government that we don’t want these things, eg. a bypass or desalination plant.

Brian Walters: The big issue is that there’s no one looking over the (State) Government’s shoulder; the Government should listen to the people who put them in.

Q. Why has there been no public consultation on this Bill? And what does ‘regard to’ mean?

Ian Shepherd: This (Legislation) is about delivering transport services more quickly, and we did consult with interested parties, and the intention (to introduce a Bill) was advertised. We sought advice with ‘regard to’.

(Ian Shepherd ignored questions about where and from whom advice was sought.)

Q. Our group met with (Minister) Pallas about local objections to a bypass (Craigieburn?). He dictated to us that, he would put freight (road) through anywhere its needed!

Brian Walters: This Bill effectively removes power or consideration of Acts like the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Julianne Bell, Protectors of Public Lands: This Bill was put through for specific road projects. What projects are to be fast-tracked?

Ian Shepherd: No decisions have been made yet. Projects must be economically, environmentally or strategically significant.

Brian Walters What about the (Western?) Ring Road?

Ashley Cook Guidelines for projects will be out this November.

Q. Is Public Authority land exempt from environmental assessment?

Ashley Cook? Er, no (vague!).

Q. Brumby (Vic Premier) sent a letter of notice to Wonthaggi property owners that the State Government has already purchased easements on private property for the desalination plant pipe. Owners can use the easement on their land rent-free until the easement is taken!

The original notes were taken in the context of some unavoidable accoustic problems on 5 October 2009.

Editorial comment: Australian law focuses almost entirely only on claims involving money (since the law recognises almost no other forms of damage). This is a severe hindrance to dealing with the right of the government to ride roughshod over democracy. Australians need a code of rights (like the continental Europeans) so that they can fight against losing things which are not quantifyable financially.

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Another Age article about the false dichotomy of ever expanding suburbia or densifcation of existing suburbs, no mention of the elephant in the room, population growth.

Also need to note that another argument regarding the need for high population density is that public transport is nonviable. This argument is becoming quite common as part of the justification for higher density.
It should be noted that before WW2 Melbourne had the same basic rail-line infrastructure it has today, the population was a lot smaller, but public transport use was a lot higher, especially in off-peak times (The last major rail line built was Glen Waverly line completed in 1930)
Other government policies which have encouraged car use over the last 60+ years have been far greater factors in reducing public transport use. Population density is not even a secondary issue in this set of factors, but I think the argument is used to bolster the "green" credentials of the person who uses this excuse.

"Sprawl of the wild"