Australian States and Territories are in the midst of major planning law reforms, spurred on by COAG.
It seems there is always a need for more planning reform, a need which has been brought into greater focus by the current economic climate. We are seeing the beginnings of some harmonisation of State and Territory planning laws, but there is a very long way to go.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in June 2009 produced some significant initiatives in planning reform:
- national performance measures for development assessment will be established, and all jurisdictions will be measured against them, with the first report for FY09 due in June 2010;
- more smaller-scale developments should be assessed under code-based development standards (which allow approvals to be issued by qualified certifiers), and these should be harmonised across jurisdictions;
- each jurisdiction should have special development assessment mechanisms to facilitate the delivery of Commonwealth-funded projects (especially under the Commonwealth’s Nation Building Programs), including the appointment of a Co-ordinator-General in each jurisdiction; and
- major project funding agreements between Commonwealth and State Governments will require an integrated assessment and approval process (presumably, more effective than current bilateral agreements under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999).
The COAG initiatives should accelerate the pace of streamlining and harmonisation, particularly for smaller-scale projects. Governments argue that streamlining small-scale development processes will free up resources to deal with the large-scale projects which all State and Territories so desperately need. However, reforms for major development approval processes must also continue if Australia is to have world-class planning and development approval laws, and it is to be hoped that all governments proceed with these soon.