Economic Development Bill 2012

Background

The Economic Development Bill 2012 (the Bill) was recently introduced to Queensland Parliament and proposes a number of major changes to Queensland’s planning and infrastructure regimes. If passed, the Bill will establish the Minister for Economic Development (the Minister), who would facilitate economic development and development for community purposes in Queensland.

Key Provisions

The Minister, who would replace the current Minister for Industrial Development, will have the power to deal commercially in land, property and infrastructure to encourage economic development and development for community purposes.1 This power can be exercised in various circumstances, including:

  • when there is some impediment to the private sector’s involvement, such as significant complexity of the site or tenure;
  • where there is a market gap or where existing planning provisions are not sufficient to effect a timely or appropriate development outcome;
  • on land adjacent to major infrastructure projects; and
  • where there is an emerging or urgent Government priority.

The Bill also seeks to establish the Economic Development Board (the Board), whose main goal is to support the performance of the Minister’s broader functions. This will be done through advising and making recommendations to the Minister about how they can give effect to the Act's main purpose. It will also monitor and report on the performance of the Minister’s functions. The Board is to be made up of State Government representatives and up to three members who have expertise in local government, planning, law, economics, accounting, the development industry or environmental management.

The Bill allows for the Minister to delegate their powers and functions to other entities, including the Board, a local representative committee2, a single member of a local representative committee, or a local government.

Acts to be Amended

Further, the Bill proposes amendments to a number of other Acts, most notably the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (SDPWO Act). These amendments aim to clarify and improve the powers of the Coordinator-General to fast-track projects, better reflect Government policies and priorities, streamline assessment and prevent proponents from misusing the intent of the Coordinator-General’s statutory powers to promote their individual projects.

To achieve its objectives, the Bill will rename and substantially restructure the process for consideration of an infrastructure facility of significance. If the Bill is passed, these will be known as a “private infrastructure facility” (PIF), with the Bill proposing new criteria and a new process for the declaration of a PIF.3 The application for a PIF must address:

  • the economic and social significance and economic or social benefits to Australia, the State or the region;
  • the financial and technical capability of the proponent;
  • that the project satisfies an identified need or demand for the services;
  • that the project will be completed in a timely way;
  • that the land on which the facility is proposed has been sufficiently identified; and
  • that the project is not inconsistent with State policies.

The Bill also plans to rename “significant projects” to “coordinated projects” in a move that aims to “remove any perception that they have an approval or level of State support and adopt more robust criteria for consideration of which projects should be coordinated projects”. These “more robust criteria” for declaring a “coordinated project” outline what the Coordinator-General must have regard, and may give weight to, when considering whether a project is appropriate. These criteria include relevant State policies and Government priorities, and how the project satisfies an identified need or demand.

The Coordinator-General need not consider an application unless satisfied that the project has at least one of the following:

  • complex approval requirements;
  • strategic significance to a locality, region or the State, including for the infrastructure, economic and social benefits, capital investment or employment opportunities it may provide;
  • significant environmental effects;
  • significant infrastructure requirements.

Under the Bill, the Coordinator-General will have a specific power to cancel a declaration for a coordinated project before their report is completed.

Acts to be Repealed

The Bill also proposes that a number of current Acts be repealed, most notably including the Urban Land Development Authority Act 2007 (ULDA Act). This would abolish the Urban Land Development Authority (the Authority), however through the Bill, the Minister would inherit essentially the same powers and functions as the Authority. As a result, the powers and functions of the Authority will reside within the State government rather than in an independent statutory corporation, and Queensland’s branching planning system will be maintained.

The Bill will facilitate the creation of Priority Development Areas (PDAs), equivalent to Urban Development Areas under the ULDA Act, and provides for the making of provisional land use plans and development schemes for those areas. The Bill contains provisions which transition existing ULDA development applications into PDA development applications, which will then be decided by the Minister under the new legislation.4

Conclusion

The amendments proposed by the Bill will improve the State’s capacity to fast track projects that are economically important. The two main concerns raised by the Bill revolve around the delegation of the Ministers powers and the Minister’s powers to cancel a declaration for a coordinated project.

There is potential for conflicts of interest to arise where the Minister delegates decision-making powers to local committees. Where a local committee, which by the Bill’s definition is made up of people who “represent entities affected by development in an area”, has previously provided advice and made recommendations to the Minister about “the impact or potential impact of development in the area” and “community needs and expectations in the area” that are adverse to a specific development proposal, the committee may not be in a position to exercise delegated decision-making functions independently and objectively.

Also contained in the Bill is the power of the Coordinator-General to cancel a declaration of a coordinated project on ‘public interest’ grounds. This is concerning because it is only through what are essentially public interest grounds that a project is declared in the first place. Although the Explanatory Notes state that: “it is not intended that meeting any of the grounds in this section will automatically result in the cancellation of a coordinated project declaration”, the existence of this power could create some potential risk for proponents. The ‘public interest’ trigger is very flexible and potentially subjective, and due to the fact that the Bill does not exclude the Judicial Review Act 1991, an exercise of this power may be difficult to challenge.5