Wednesday, 22 July 2009

PAL policy

The election campaign has already started if the weekend’s press reports are any guide.

Mr Will Hodgman will certainly bring a fresh approach to policy making if he replicates his recent parliamentary performance in the matter of the PAL policy.

The State is now without a Protection of Agricultural Land (PAL) policy.

The interim 2007 policy expired on 10th July 2009.

The Government was unable to obtain the necessary approval from both Houses for the revised 2009 policy to take effect.

The 2000 policy needed to be reviewed after 5 years. Eventually Mr Kons, the Planning Minister at the time cobbled together a new policy, the 2007 Draft Policy, which contained sufficient changes to warrant a Report from RPDC.

RPDC conducted a review in 2008 and handed the Government a Report in April 2009.The RPDC tampered with the wording of the policy in an attempt to make it a more coherent document than the cut and paste prepared by Mr Kons.

It was arguably beyond the brief given to RPDC to recommend wholesale changes to the Draft, such as, for instance, making forestry plantations a discretionary use on all classes of land.

Meanwhile the 2000 Policy had reached its used by date. The 2007 Draft policy was installed as an interim policy, to expire on 10th July 2009.

Hopefully giving the Government enough time for RPDC to report back to the Government and for the Government to then make a decision on a new policy.

Once the Government decides, both Houses need to approve. They cannot amend, merely approve or disapprove.

The Government left it to the last minute to table its policy in Parliament.

In the case of the Lower House the new policy was considered on the last sitting day before the winter recess.

The Government via the Planning Minister Mr Llewellyn, when seeking cooperation from Opposition parties to extend sitting hours beyond the usual 6 pm, referred to the need to confirm “tiny amendments to the interim policy”.

The Government had actually made further changes to the policy as recommended by RPDC but Mr Llewellyn obviously didn’t feel obligated to inform the House of those changes and why they were made.

The PAL policy and its various interpretations have had a considerable impact in some municipalities particularly West Tamar and Waratah-Wynyard in the matter of building on small allotments in the country.

After many years of angst, with Councils blaming RPDC and/or the PAL policy and RPDC and the Government accusing Councils for any problems and misunderstandings, one would have thought the time was opportune to iron out any problems when formulating a new Policy.

Alas not everyone agreed.

It was never adequately explained how the new policy as amended by RPDC (before the Government further tampered with it) will overcome the widely acknowledged problems faced by small rural lot owners in some municipalities.

There is still widespread doubt in the community.

For instance one of Tasmania’s more prominent planning lawyers stated in a letter of advice appended to one of the submissions received by RPDC, that “I do not read the draft policy as a fundamental alteration of previous policy”.

Mr Llewellyn turned a blind eye.

It’s times like this one relies on a diligent Opposition.

Mr Hodgman as shadow Planning Minister spoke on the approval motion.

One would have to google for long time to find a more pitiful speech to the House.

Obviously pleased with the fact that the RPDC didn’t extend the need for forestry plantation companies to justify a discretionary use for their activities on non prime land, Mr Hodgman implied that plantation forestry was value adding and those with doubts were demonising the industry.

Mr Hodgman is living in a world of illusion if he thinks people with long held doubts about the viability of plantation forestry are only interested in demonising the industry.

The unreality of his position was confirmed by his failure to acknowledge in any meaningful way PAL issues other than plantation forestry.

Mr Hodgman concluded his 5 minute contribution to the debate, by saying “(w)e support the motion and hope it achieves the objectives that are intended”.


What a novel approach for a policy maker.

No attempt to canvass the issues that have caused such divisions, nor to satisfy himself that the proposed Policy will overcome any current deficiencies, Mr Hodgman instead dug deep, crossed his fingers and expressed the hope that the Policy will achieve its objectives.

Is this an insight into the Hodgman Way?

Was the Pulp Mill also given a tick by Will on the basis of a hope that it will achieve its objectives as outlined by the proponents?

Anyway, thank goodness the Legislative Council were much more sceptical than Will as to whether the proposed policy would achieve the intended outcomes.

The Government presumably figured that by introducing the approval motion in the last two days of sitting before the winter recess, on the heels of the extensive and wearying Budget deliberations, they might catch Members unprepared.

But they hadn’t counted on the Member for Murchison Ruth Forrest, who was fully cognizant of the problems caused by PAL in her electorate.

Ms Forrest detailed a litany of problems with the proposed policy when it was tabled in the Upper House, causing her colleagues to sit up and review their positions.

The Government had pursued a particularly lazy course and had been caught out.

The RPDC made it plain that an accompanying Implementation Guide and Model Rules, although not binding on Councils, would help explain the Policy in a little more detail and should be presented together with the Policy.

The Government had previously undertook to do this very thing. In a media release dated 29th May 2008 it was stated “Because of concerns over inconsistency in interpretation, the revised PAL Policy will be accompanied by supporting documentation. This documentation will include a comprehensive Implementation Guide and a set of Model Planning Scheme Standards which could be adopted by local councils if they so chose.”

Only someone forgot to tell Mr Llewellyn. He didn’t feel encumbered by the need to more adequately explain the Policy.

Or to produce the Implementation Guide.

After all it was only a “tiny amendment”.

Facing the possibility of disapproval by the Legislative Council, the Government tried Plan B, a briefing for Honourable Members.

When Honourable Members appeared to still harbour doubts, the Government agreed to an adjournment rather than risk a vote of disapproval which would have forced the Government back to square one..

Which now leaves the State without a PAL policy.

Temporarily at least.

The sky’s not going to fall in, but it really highlights how lazy and sloppy the Government has been, taking forever to draft a new policy, breaking prior undertakings about providing accompanying guidelines and then mistakenly treating parliament as a rubber stamp.

And how the Opposition, in Robin Gray’s view,
Gray’s vision: The LibLab Coalition .
Labor-Liberal amalgamation: Tasmania’s future? )
might just as well join Mr Bartlett’s crew, for all the difference they make.

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