Is the New Planning & Design Code Undemocratic legislation

Communities from across the state attended a forum last night believing the New Planning & Design Code is Undemocratic Legislation.

Held at the splendid heritage listed Norwood Concert Hall, the forum was conducted by Protect Our Heritage. Protect Our Heritage is an alliance of local community organisations whose primary aim is protecting our heritage. Their website is https://protectourheritage.nationbuilder.com/

Renewing Our Heritage PlanningThe forum was designed to inform and encourage communities to respond to the State Government’s new Planning & Design Code. Speakers on the night all spoke with concern that  hard won protections for our treasured heritage places are under threat.

The common belief expressed was that the Government’s State Planning Commission is not looking to maintain those heard fought protections. This flies in the face of assurances I have received from the Chair of the State Planning Commission. Assurances expressed in blogs I wrote in May and earlier this month.

How the Commission will treat (what have been called until now) contributory items was the biggest concern. Public utterances from the Government, the Minister and the Commission have left members of the alliance believing protections are going to be removed in the new Planning & Design Code.

They are concerned that the Commission will determine, not the parliament, what will or will not be included. In other words, they believe that there is not going to be any public input into the final decisions. In other words, undemocratic legislation.

At the heart of the concerns and energy in the room last night then is a lack of community consultation.  

Rather than consult us, the Commission has been saying trust us. Given a lack of consultation to date, attendees do not trust the Commission and the Government.

I believe the problem here is when should a government (whether Federal, State or Local) commence consulting on any issue. Should they consult when a project is at the formative (blank sheet) stage. Or should it be when there has been sufficient information for informed public observation to be possible.

Here at Unley we have tried both ways. Either way we have been criticised. When consulting on a blank piece of paper for not providing substance to respond to. When consulting on a prepared position for hiding facts until the end.

As reported in my blog earlier this month the Commission will be putting their proposals out to consultation from October. At this time there should be sufficient information for informed debate by the community.

The consultation period for metropolitan council areas will extend until early next year. This should provide ample opportunity for such informed debate.

Finally, as I have said in both mentioned blog posts, we must respond when the opportunity presents itself shortly. We must look at the detail (the devil is in the detail). We then must put our submissions into the Commission. That is all us. Collectively and individually.

As I have often said in my blogs, only then can you be assured your voice is heard. Let us all ensure by participating that we are not the reason for any undemocratic legislation.

I know I will be. Will you?

Lower Costs and Enhanced Financial Accountability for Local Government.

Lower costs and enhanced financial accountability for Local Government. A noble 2nd area of reform in the Government’s program of Local Government Reform.

 

The Government went to the people in March of last year with a promise to lower the cost of running local governments. A noble ambition.

Eleven recommendations have been put to you and I for comment. Many I don’t have a problem with.

Indeed, Unley already voluntarily does what is proposed in the first four recommendations. That includes having more independent members on the committee than elected members. It includes those independent members having due qualifications to sit on the committee. Furthermore, our committee is already charged as an audit and “risk” committee.

As a metropolitan Council we don’t have much trouble with doing this. I can imagine however regional councils may have trouble due to a lack of suitably qualified candidates.

 

What I do have a problem with is requiring the Auditor General to oversight of all Council Audits. 

 

This I see as one of those measures I noted in my first blog post of this series that will add to the cost of local government. Significantly.

The Auditor General has got powers of investigation over the industry already. Powers he can use at his discretion. Similarly, like the powers he used recently to oversee the workings of the Brownhill Creek Project.

To have oversight over all 68 councils each year is an overkill. The AG would have to resource this work. He would likely direct the work to the same organisations/people conducting the audits on behalf of councils now.

As the AG would be responsible for the work, he would have to oversee the work. This would require increased resourcing. This adds another layer of administration, which must add to the cost of reporting and therefore to the industry.

Doubts about the adequacy of some current or past auditing contracts would be better served by the Government setting up a register of accredited auditors. Councils can seek their auditor from this list. Restricting auditors to working more than a set number of successive years with a given council would also be worth considering.

Productivity Council Publishes Draft Report Ahead of Time.

The Productivity Council has released the draft report I recently blogged about. They have done this ahead of time to maximise the Local Government sector’s opportunity for an informed response.

 

As the Productivity Council’s report will feed into the Government’s Local Government reform agenda, I interrupt my series on the reforms to include this.

After being briefed by the PC chair yesterday I am gratified at their efforts to truly understand the industry. They have consulted well. Their draft report, on the surface, recognises the constraints under which the local government industry operates. Their report certainly does not present as the Government, I suspect, may have expected.

They recognised that just under 50% of our activities are mandated. Activities over which we have no control. It recognised the cost shifting State Governments of both persuasions thrust upon local government. The chair preferred to call this cost sharing. Nonetheless it was recognised.

It also recognised the need for local government to develop in the non-mandatory areas in keeping with the needs of their community.

Finally, it recognises that wages growth in the sector has escalated beyond CPI. This is an important conversation in that wages represent 1/3rd of our costs.

In other words, the report demonstrates that the Local Government sector, by running a tape measure over it relative to each other, as being an efficient sector. This diagnosis albeit with a caveat that there is significant room for improvement.

 

The report, which can be read here, makes three distinct recommendations. They are as follows:

 

  1. Lift the capacity of local councils to identify and address opportunities to reduce their cost base and improve their operations.
  1. Facilitating bench marking by clusters of councils through an appropriate mix of incentives for councils to participate and expectations that they will report information publicly in a format consistent with the framework.
  1. Further lower council costs by addressing aspects of the relationship between the South Australian Government and local government.

The Commission is looking for a response from us (councils and the community) on the draft report. Before preparing the final report to be presented to the minister, they are asking us 19 specific questions they are still seeking answers to.

We have until the end of next month (October) to do this in order they meet the deadlines imposed on them by the Government.

Elected Member Conflict of Interest an Area in Need of Reform.

Elected member conflict of interest is the last of the areas of concern in the Government’s 1st Reform Area. I agree. It is absolutely an area in need of reform.

The ‘elected member conflict of interest’ model in the Local Government Act is unnecessarily complicated and confusing. As a result, many councillors do not participate in debates, when their expertise would be valuable.

I have seen this play out in the current council. I myself have felt compromised on occasion, unsure of whether I have a conflict or not. Worse yet, there is potential for a member to use conflict of interest as a way of avoiding voting on a contentious issue.

The rules around elected member conflict of interest are complex. They need simplifying. They need to recognise that elected members invariably will be members of other community organisations. Be that sporting clubs, service clubs, churches, neighbourhood watch or other like community based organisations.

Being a member of any such club should not in itself constitute a conflict. Often the aims of the organisation and council are the same. A conflict should therefore centre around the original intention of the act. That is that the elected member should not personally gain.

The current provisions also cloud the area of where you or your family may live as a potential conflict of interest. A member should be able to vote on matters relevant to their street or suburb. If they can’t then their immediate neighbours do not have  a voice in Council. This played out to the consternation of the community in the last Council as they dealt with the DPA in Unley Central.

If these rules are not simplified we run the very real risk of community minded people not running in future for Council. Given this, you have to ask the question. Who do we want running for Council.

The very same people I would have thought.

Matters of Integrity, behavioural Matters and the Role of the Mayor.

Matters of Integrity must be dealt with outside of Council and include consequences for breaches.

 

Who should deal with matters of integrity I am not sure. The Government is proposing some options.

No matter what or who it will come at a cost, just as we have now. It may not matter in the end, who.

It must however be an external body, and not handled in house.

What will matter is members who have committed a breach of integrity must be subject to swift investigation and include consequences for breaches.

We must avoid the lengthy process that occurs now. The consequences must be more than just being sanctioned as happens now.

 

Behavioural matters on the other hand are probably best dealt with in house.

 

The use of outside bodies to investigate and/or make recommendations needs to be questioned. I say that in as much as this potentially extends the time of investigation. Consequences, particularly for repeat offenders must be strengthened beyond the current practice of sanctioning.

It may be that a set of behavioural standard needs to be developed. I am not sure this can reasonably be achieved however. I question too, whether this is better achieved by each council rather than have another body establish it. The current Unley Council is working through, as we speak, a similar standard.

 

Greater Controls for the Mayor

 

The Government is right to consider this and seek yours and my input. It is a vexing question. Install powers like the Speaker has in the Government’s House of Assembly and Legislative Council.

The City of Unley has not, in my time, had behavioural issues warranting such action. It is hard to imagine therefore a need for such to be addressed in a new Local Government Act.

In my time as Deputy Mayor a couple of years back, I did hear from a few Mayors of the problems they faced in their chambers. Problems that, coupled with what we hear in the Media, lead me to believe implementing some Mayoral oversight may be appropriate.

It has the potential of course to be manipulated if the Mayor was one to take advantage of this power. Any change in legislation in his area needs to have inbuilt protections to guard therefore against misuse.

Stronger Council Member Capacity and Better Conduct

Stronger Council Member capacity and better Conduct is the first reform area in the Government’s Local Government Reform Agenda. This is indeed the area of highest priority.

 

Accordingly, stronger Council Member capacity and better conduct is the first area I also am giving thought to. As I noted in my blog post of 21 August I intend to convey my thoughts in each of the areas.

I agree with doing this. The Local Government industry agrees with doing this. Apart maybe from a handful of recalcitrant elected members, that is. Members who don’t see themselves as part of the elected body team struggle with this. Those who seemingly must be seen as fighting the establishment.

The media agrees with this and, with their prodding, so do you. Poor behaviour or conduct makes for the Medias view of good press. The press push any notion of poor behaviour on the part of elected members. With this being invariably the sole source of information you have on local government you obviously will likely share the same view.

What you might read in the press however is not the problem that needs to be addressed. It is separating integrity and behavioural issues, and the mechanisms that currently exist to deal with both.

The current rules are a vast improvement on the previous rules. They create confusion however. Members can be compelled by these rules to report perceived code of conduct breaches in fear of being in breach themselves.

The proposal being put forward aims to separate matters of integrity and behavioural matters. This is a must. Matters of integrity must always have robust procedures for handling, including penalties. On the other hand, behavioural matters can and should be dealt with differently.

 

The Government is proposing 20 recommendations.

 

Generally speaking I support all of these. Some with a degree of caution.

Please look to my next two blog posts as I look more closely at the difference between matters of integrity and behavioural matters. Look also for my thoughts on increasing the powers of the Mayor and (in a separate blog post) my thoughts on conflict of interest.

Local Government Reform Recommendations are a mixed bag.

Local Government Reform Recommendations are a mixed bag but fail to address the Government’s core objective. That is my in initial observation as I endeavour to review each of their 72 recommendations.

 

As I revealed in my last blog post the Government has made 72 recommendations to inform a new Local Government Act. 72 recommendations over 4 core reform areas. Some good, some not so good. I will respond to these in later blog posts.

Up front I have to say the recommendations fail the pub test though of achieving their core objective. They will not help to reduce the cost of local government providing the services they provide you. Indeed there is every potential they will increase the cost of providing those services.

They fail to look at what Local Government could look like in the future. They focus instead on fixing perceived legislative failings. A RACE TO THE BOTTOM AS IT WHERE. The reforms appear to have us spending MORE on governance than on roads and rubbish.

The recommendations, by and large all centre around governance, good governance. As a public utility spending public money (your money) it is important that good governance is a given. It is only natural that when reviewing procedures that the focus quickly turns to solving what is not working.

Not surprisingly, this leads to increasing governance measures. So naturally, any such exercise will potentially lead not to reduced costs but to increased costs. If that happens then the obvious question that must be asked is, am I getting good value for the extra $ I will see leave my pockets. Will it be worth it?

Not only are the reform recommendations are a mixed bag, they place potentially greater legislative restrictions on how we provide for our community. So, before you respond to the Governments invitation to contribute to the conversation, may I suggest you truly consider each recommendation and what it really means. If in doubt, look to my future posts on the reform recommendations.

Local Government Reform recommendations out for Public Consultation.

Local Government Reform recommendations are finally out for Public Consultation. The Government now wants to hear from you.

 

Local government reform and cutting the cost of local government was one of the election platforms of the State Government. They lost out to the Opposition and the Minor Parties with their blunt rate capping strategy. Notwithstanding this, they have been working hard on coming up with a suite of legislative changes that are aimed at a more efficient local government sector.

The local government industry has been in conversation with them since they took office. This continues the dialogue we had with the previous government. As I have blogged before, change is needed.

They now want to hear from you, and me.

With a view to introducing a draft bill in March next year the Minister has endorsed 72 recommendations. He is keen to know what we all think about these proposed changes. We all have until November 1st to provide our feedback.

If you have an interest in how local government might best serve you, here is perhaps your best chance. Go to the DPTI website and read through the recommendations.

If you have an opinion on any of them please make it known through their have your say. You can do this on the have your say page.

The 72 Local Government reform recommendations are spread over 4 areas.

The areas are as follows:

In summary, the proposals for reform are—

Reform Area 1 | Stronger Council Member Capacity and Better Conduct

Reform Area 2 | Lower Costs and Enhanced Financial Accountability

Reform Area 3 | Efficient and Transparent Local Government Representation

Reform Area 4 | Simpler Regulation

While this plays out they are also awaiting the report from the Productivity Commission. When their report is received it will sit alongside the survey results to inform their 1st draft bill.

I will be contributing, not just through the submission from Unley Council, but on my own volition. Watch out for future blogs for my thoughts.

Community Engagement Charter Adopted by new State Government

Not quite a month in office and the new Government, through their Minister for Planning Stephan Knoll, has announced the adoption of the Community Engagement Charter.

Stephan Knoll

 

This is the Community Engagement Charter developed by the previous State Government. Let us hope the new government follows the intent of the Charter.

Many in the community believe the previous Government, while waiving the big stick at Councils, did not practice what they preached. This may well have contributed to their election loss.

The announcement is as follows:

The Minister for Planning has announced the adoption and release of the Community Engagement Charter for implementation commencing on 27 April 2018.

Community engagement is at the heart of the new planning system that will be introduced over the next 3-4 years.  The Community Engagement Charter (the Charter) supports new and innovative ways to talk to communities and other interested parties about planning issues.

The Charter changes the way that local and state governments are required to consult with the community during the preparation of changes to planning strategies and policies (such as rezoning of land).

Rather than legislative one-size-fits-all approach the Charter requires those consulting to tailor the engagement to suit the project and the communities who are interested and may be impacted by the proposed changes.

It recognises that with technological advances there are many options to successfully consult with communities. Local and state governments and other bodies consulting on planning matters will be required to meet the following principles in undertaking engagement.

  1. Engagement is genuine
  2. Engagement is inclusive and respectful
  3. Engagement is fit for purpose
  4. Engagement is informed and transparent
  5. Engagement processes are reviewed and improved

The Charter has been informed by a staged consultation starting with the Planning Together Panel and input by a broader stakeholder group.  The Discussion Draft of the Charter was then released for six weeks of public consultation. Following that the Draft Charter was released for another six weeks of public consultation before final amendments were made. More information on the consultation process can be found on the SA Planning Portal.

It is recognised that the Charter will need to evolve over time.  In its first year, it will primarily be applied to the development of the new State Planning Policies, the Planning and Design Code, and Infrastructure Schemes as required under the new Act.

As the State Planning Commission prepares these documents, it will test the Charter and its application to allow for its ongoing evolution. During this time the Commission welcomes ongoing feedback to assist in monitoring and improving the Charter.

A copy of the Community Engagement Charter can be downloaded from the SA Planning Portal http://www.saplanningportal.sa.gov.au/our_new_system/community_engagement_charter: