ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 22, 1999

ALDERMAN ATTACKS TOWN PLANNING DRAFT LEGISLATION. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

A prominent alderman says the Alice Town Council should boycott new town planning laws if they are passed in their present draft form.The chairman of the council's planning committee, Alderman Geoff Miers, says local government would have even less influence on the planning process, and ministerial powers to appoint members to the planning authority may mean that “decisions are being made by people who live in Darwin”.He claims the local CLP Members of Parliament have sold out the local community by failing to push for amendments sought by the council, as well as other interested organisations.Ald Miers says the new laws would put even greater powers in the hands of the Minister, and reduce public accountability for the people making the crucial decisions.He claims rather than making the process more democratic, and bringing it in line with those of other states, Lands Minister Tim Baldwin wants to move in the opposite direction.Meanwhile the council has drawn up a 15 page document seriously criticising the proposals.Ald Miers says the new law would reduce from three to just one the council nominated members on the planning authority (which has a total of five members), enable the Minister, at his own discretion, to bypass the authority altogether, and to override any of its decisions.While local governments throughout the Territory want to be put in charge of town planning, as they are in all the other states, the new law would relegate councils to making comments and submissions, with no actual planning powers.Ald Miers says the proposed planning act “devalues the role of local government and reduces its role to a farce."If that's the situation, I don't want to be part of that, and I'll be calling on my fellow aldermen not to put their hands up to sit on the authority."Ald Miers says Mr Baldwin is proposing to "take away completely any accountability"."I'm aware of certain aldermen on the Planning Authority who've made decisions that angered people in this community, and they've said very clearly to me they will not vote for those people at the next [council] election."That is where the accountability exists."Under the proposed Planning Act there is absolutely no possibility of that happening."You may as well say it's a panel of faceless people," says Ald Miers.He says the Darwin City Council is spending $50,000 on a publicity campaign attacking the proposals.He says he's not aware of any dissent by local CLP MLAs Loraine Braham, Eric Poole, Richard Lim and John Elferink: "I'd be pleased to hear from any Member of Parliament who's prepared to stand up and defend community and local government involvement in the planning process."I think the Members of the CLP Government in Central Australia should open up their ears, get out in the community and listen to what the community is saying."I'll qualify that by saying that with the Planning Act it's very hard to get people to understand what it's all about, and to get dynamically interested at the moment in Alice Springs because there is so little development, and certainly, there is very little controversial development."(Residents in the Rangeview Estate rural area are gearing up for a fight against yet another application by developer Denis Hornsby for permission to subdivide lots smaller than the two hectare minimum set down for the area.Mr Hornsby was at the centre of residents' actions some years ago when Lands Minister Max Ortmann – who later became notorious for wrapping a microphone cord around a journalist's throat – allowed Mr Hornsby to create smaller lots despite overwhelming opposition from residents.Meanwhile a proposal to subdivide a single lot in Ragonesi Road into 46 blocks has also attracted objections. The application will go before the Planning Authority on Thursday this week, and 10 people – all nearby residents – have been invited as "submitters").Ald Miers says: "What frightens the living daylights out of me is the increased power of the Minister."He says he will not have the power to direct the Development Consent Authority in relation to an application."What he doesn't say is he will be able to call in an application and determine it without even going to the authority. The Minister would be able to override any current zoning."Ald Miers says town planning should involve the community so that "we might have a genuine vision for this town."We still don't have such a vision, nor any working documents."He says the council is developing a landscape strategy "that encompasses verges, parks and open space right throughout Alice Springs, a strategy that will promote Alice Springs as being unique."However, under the proposed laws, the Minister could allow developments "which have no regard to the streetscape, to the image and character of this town."Ald Miers also lashed out at the continuing denial of "third party appeals" – ruled out by Mr Baldwin (in a recent statement to the Alice News) before the process for public comment had even come to an end: disgruntled developers will continue to have access to an appeals body, but objectors will not – a situation unique in Australian town planning regimes.Says Ald Miers: "There is just no opportunity for me, as a resident and a rate payer of this town, to appeal."I can object in the first instance but I can't appeal."And if an application is going straight to the Minister I won't even know about it, and all of a sudden my amenity, my investment may be impacted on by a development next door and I have absolutely no opportunity to be part of that process."It's totally wrong."Meanwhile the town council's response to the proposed amendments says "councils around Australia are charged with the responsibility of assessing the vast majority of development within [their] municipal boundaries, whilst they are also charged with the primary role of creating local planning policies which guide development."The Baldwin proposals would "centralise" a significant number of functions within one decision making body."It is likely to be difficult for the consent authority to efficiently and consistently implement all of these functions."The submission says: "There is inadequate scope for local authorities to influence strategic planning policies: "The inability to draft and prepare Land Use Objectives or development provisions ... is not appropriate."The council claims "the intent of ‘amenity' needs to be clarified in terms of its scope, design or aesthetic principles, whilst the extents of the ‘area to which the land is situated' and the importance of evaluating the existing character of an ‘area' also require confirmation."The effect of a development on the amenity of an area is often one of the key factors in creating a sound development which complements the local area."While the government draft refers to "merit" of a development application, the term remains undefined making "consistent interpretation" difficult.

GOVERNMENT IGNORES ITS OWN ADVISOR ON TOWN PLANNING

Lands Minister Tim Baldwin has all but ignored the recommendations made in July last year by Earl James, following a three months enquiry commissioned by Mr Baldwin's predecessor, Mick Palmer.Mr James, a Darwin based surveyor and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian Planning Institute, has lived in the Territory since 1952. He is now retired.He provided the Alice News with this statement:-
During the course of my review, I found the main community concerns were:
• The lack of recognition by Government that a town plan should reflect the aspirations of the community as well as those of the Government and that community involvement should start at the beginning of the planning process and not halfway through it as happens now.
• The lack of a prescribed process for the formulation of planning schemes and amendment thereto.
• The lack of prescription for the content of Land Use Objectives.
• The great diversity of opinion over the meaning of the esoteric terms "merit, amenity and public interest" which are matters prescribed by the Act to be taken into account by the Planning Authority when considering a development application; and the apparent lack of importance given to these matters by the Planning Authority and developers alike.
• Perceived over use of the Minister's power to direct the Planning Authority to make a decision in accordance with his wishes.
• The lack of appeal rights against a decision of the Planning Authority by anyone other than the developer.
In my report to the Minister, I recommend that:-
• The Act be amended to acknowledge the real role of the community in the planning process and the shared ownership of town plans.
• That the Act or the regulations be amended to define the process by which Land Use Objectives are determined and the minimum content of them.
• The Act (and / or the Regulations) be amended to give some meaning to the terms "merit, amenity and public interest".
• The development control process be made to include the need for a special report on these matters by an independent committee (I recommend the local Council for this task).
• The Minister let his appointees to the Planning Authority make the hard decisions without undue interference.• The Act be amended to provide for third party appeals.
The Draft Bill does not do any of these things; gives the Minister greater power to interfere in the development control process through the creation of what he calls "Call-in powers"; and seems to incorporate only two of the 13 recommendations I made for amendment to the Act (A2 and A13).The notion of Community Ownership of town plans was never considered before Self Government in 1978 and today it is given only lip service, which is a great pity. To date the public's role has largely been reactive, responding to proposals put before us rather than being a partner with government in the setting of the policies and strategies needed to guide the future growth and development of our communities.The present Planning Act when it was conceived in 1993, was an attempt to achieve this but it seems to have failed. Indeed the Review of the Act that I undertook last year was commissioned by the Minister in an attempt to make the planning process more community friendly. To quote from one of my terms of reference, I was to "...advise on changes to the current process to encourage Local Government specifically, and the community generally, to focus on having input into land use policy and the establishment of planning schemes...".What I found was that Local Government and the community at large wanted very much to have effective input into land use policy (or Land Use Objectives), and into the establishment of planning schemes, but the process was so autocratic that any input they made was given little priority. And this was because public input was always called for after the event – after the policies (the Land Use Objectives) had been formulated at a higher level; after the planning scheme had been drafted.I recommend to the Minister that the Planning Act be amended to acknowledge the fact that there should be a shared ownership of planning schemes between the government and the community they serve; that the public be given the opportunity to be involved at the start of the process instead of at the end.Unfortunately there is no evidence of such a change in the Bill for a new Planning Act.While the document in itself may be quite acceptable (and that is something yet to be determined) the process used to create it shows that the Government is still paying lip service to the notion of Community Involvement. Planning under the new Bill will still be an autocratic affair.

WE'RE CONSULTING ON TOWN PLANNING, SAYS ELFERINK

While MacDonnell MLA John Elferink concedes that "not a great deal has changed" in the proposed new planning laws, he sees no problem with that."Planning power will either rest with one authority or the other, with the town council or with the Northern Territory Government. In this case, it's with the Government."If council is concerned about any planning issue, it will be able to take advantage of its seat on the consent authority," says Mr Elferink.He asserts that there is "a lot of room for consultation in the draft legislation", and finds "surprising" Ald Miers' criticism of local CLP MLAs as not listening to the community. The Planning Bill we are talking about is a discussion draft," says Mr Elferink. "We are in the process of consulting."Meanwhile, negotiations continue to allow public access to West Gap – a proposal floated earlier this year by Mr Elferink. He was to meet with Rod Oates of Air Services Australia as the Alice News went to press.He also says the consortium looking into the development of a motor sports complex south of the Blatherskite Range, is working on costing, while the proposal to erect a fence to protect the Ilparpa claypans looks likely to be approved and funded in the near future.Meanwhile the president of the Australian Local Government Association, John Campbell, says Terri-torians should have same rights on planning as rest of Australia. He said it was time the NT Government began devolving planning powers to councils.Speaking at the annual meeting of the Local Government Association last week, Cr Campbell said: "Other Australians are able to decide locally on planning matters through their elected and accountable Council members and so it should be for [Territorians]. "I am surprised at what is happening on planning in the NT because in the Statehood debate the NT Government was very strong on Territorians having the same rights as other Australians. It seems this is not their intention with regard to local planning."

A FUTURE BETTER THAN THE DOLE?

"Some of our kids' idea of a career path is how to get into a CDEP program – that's not a very good outcome." So says Kevin Bromley, Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Training Advisory Council (ATSIPTAC), in Alice Springs recently for the launch of a new national strategy to tackle extreme levels of unemployment among indigenous Australians.The strategy has been developed by a partnership of ATSIPTAC with the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation (ASTF), and given the name Wadu, meaning "together in partnership and trust" in the language of the Kaurna people of Adelaide Plains in South Australia.Wadu was launched on September 10 at the Institute of Aboriginal Development by Federal Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, David Kemp.National statistics indicate that 70 per cent of Aboriginal students drop out of school by Year 10.Says Mr Bromley: "The 30 per cent who stay on usually have aspirations for higher education, they're going to make it anyway."We are looking for ways to target that 70 per cent who drop out. For them to have an aspiration to get into CDEP is a way of thinking that we have got to change."We have got to look at how we are going to give those kids an understanding of what employment is about, how we can start turning their minds towards staying on at school, how they can get an education that's going to provide them with the skills to go on to employment."VET [vocational education and training] in schools is a way we see of doing it."It can be talked about in the primary years and Years Seven and Eight, then when kids go into Years Nine and 10 we would like them to get hands on experience in various vocations, so they can get a feel for what they are about before they are out of the system."If they can find a vocational area that they can enjoy and understand, then they can build a career path on that."Also, if we can keep kids from dropping out then TAFE won't have to always be going back and doing all the bridging work that they do at the moment."In a certain sense TAFE is picking up the core work that the education system is not doing. The core work of the education system is to provide literacy and numeracy, yet every course we offer we have to run basic literacy and numeracy with it to get our people up to the required level."While the environments of Aboriginal students differ, from remote to rural to urban, the statistical picture is fairly uniform, according to Mr Bromley:"The dropout rate of 70 per cent before Year 10 is a national statistic. Add to that, on current trends, 50 per cent of our people are predicted to be unemployed by the year 2006; 50 per cent are under the age of 19; 40 per cent are under the age of 15. "All these statistics stack up to say, ‘Hey, we've got to do something, make a quantum change."Following the launch of the strategy, ATSIPTAC and ASTF will be working to make sure governments, Federal, State and Territory, endorse and resource it.Mr Bromley says part of the strategy is also to provide Aboriginal parents with an understanding of the support needed to get their kids through school. Harris van Beek, chief executive officer of ASTF, says better equipping young people for their transitions in life is a uniform issue in Australia, but that indigenous students are particularly disadvantaged educationally, and need to have learning opportunities relevant to their communities.Says Mr van Beek: "A very significant transition is the one from school to beyond school. For all young people there are going to be lots of changes and there won't necessarily be certainty of work. These programs are not about creation of work – hopefully there are other programs that will do that . They're about equipping people to be more enterprising in creating their own income generation opportunities, and about being able to move into employment opportunities when they arise."The programs that we are supporting are part of a school course, [but] we are saying that not all students are going to learn appropriately by being in a classroom. We need to find more appropriate learning opportunities, including learning in the workplace, learning back in communities, and then recognising the learning that comes out of that."A number of programs have been running long enough for an initial evaluation of their impact, including those at Cooktown State School, where 30 per cent of students are Aboriginal, and the Cape York Cluster where Aboriginal students predominate.Mr van Beek says these programs have reported a dramatic improvement in retention rates, a significant reduction in problematic disciplinary issues, young people returning to school, some being offered jobs, some going into further training,."They are all very good indicators. There is only a small number of programs so far but there's a consistent positive pattern."He says it is clear that the better programs have involved the community: "Unless you involve the community it just doesn't work. That's not just with indigenous communities. Wherever these programs operate, they're about local ownership and local control with appropriate accountability."Mr van Beek says the success of the Wadu strategy will depend on resourcing it; on making sure there are the skills available within schools and within the communities themselves to supervise the learning; on being clear about the content of what is to be learned and about how that is going to be recognised.

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