Keeping Local Councils Local

Summary

PMAT supports keeping local councils local. 

We do not support the State Government eroding democracy by reducing the power and responsibilities of local councils and removing meaningful input from local communities by: 

  1. Removing development assessment from the normal local council process to be replaced by State-appointed Development Assessment Panels (DAPs) conducted by the Tasmanian Planning Commission. Decisions by DAPs will be final;
  2. Removing planning appeal rights;
  3. Increasing Ministerial power to overrule local councils on planning scheme changes;
  4. Forcing local council amalgamations; and
  5. Increasing land uses and developments within the Tasmanian Planning Scheme that can occur without public consultation or rights of appeal.

PMAT's Key Concerns

  1. The State Government minimising the power and responsibilities of local councils and meaningful input from local communities.
  2. The Tasmanian Planning Scheme removing opportunities for councils and communities to have a say on developments through public consultation and rights of appeal.
  3. Proposed legislation creating an alternate planning approval pathway allowing property developers to bypass local councils and communities. The Minister for Planning could remove assessment and approval of development – at any stage in the normal local council process – and transfer to Development Assessment Panels (DAPs)
    1. Elected councillors would not have a say on the most controversial and destructive developments affecting local communities.
    2. DAP decisions will be final with no opportunity for merits-based planning appeal by councils or community to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (for example, objections to height, bulk, scale). Developments could only be appealed to the Supreme Court based on an error in law.
    3. Proposed legislation to allow top-down land use rulings on planning scheme changes. The Minister for Planning could direct councils to commence planning scheme changes, but perversely, only when a local council has rejected such an application. 
    4. Increasing the Power of the Minister for Planning decreases transparency, and increases the politicisation of planning and risk of corrupt decisions. Tasmanian property developers are still able to donate to political parties, unlike NSW, ACT and QLD.
    5. State Government has the power to force council amalgamations to create fewer, larger regional councils that are potentially less accountable to ratepayers and residents, with loss of local representation, council staff and jobs, selling of public assets and land, environmental impacts, declining municipal services and loss of local identity and decision making.

PMAT's Key Recommendations

    1. Improve the Tasmanian Planning Scheme and retain planning in local councils to ensure communities and councils have a greater say on development applications in their local area and the places they care about. Ensure opportunity for merit-based planning appeals to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
    2. Ensure Council amalgamations are voluntary and based on adopting the major elements required for successful amalgamations.
    3. Amend the Local Government Act 1993 to ensure changes to local government boundaries or council amalgamations are approved by Parliament and not solely by the Minister for Local Government, as is currently the case.
    4. Take action to improve council governance (for example, managing councillor conflicts of interest and Code of Conduct complaints) and planning processes by providing more resources to councils and enhancing community participation.
    5. Ensure councillors are not replaced by Development Assessment Panels. 
    6. Ensure transparency, independence, accountability and public participation in decision-making within the planning system – all integral components of a healthy democracy.
    7. Prohibit property developers from donating to political parties, enhance transparency and efficiency in the administration of the Right to Information Act 2009, and create a strong anti-corruption watchdog.
    8. Encourage political candidates and parties to publish a Planning and Local Government election policy leading up to State and Local Government elections to ensure voters can make informed choices. 
    9. Ensure all Local and State election candidates provide their contact details, including an email address, to the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. Details to be publicly available in a timely and easily accessible format to allow voters access to candidate positions on election issues. 
    10. Ensure the Tasmanian Electoral Commission reverses the decision made in 2022, without consultation, to not provide postal addresses of eligible voters enrolled on each Council’s General Manager’s Roll.

Background

PMAT supports keeping local councils local – where the local council and community decide on local planning decisions, supported by local services and local jobs.

PMAT does not support the push by the State Government to undermine our democracy by reducing local council and community participation in land use planning and development decisions via:

  • Removing assessment and approval of developments from the normal local council process and replacing it with State-appointed Development Assessment Panels (DAPs) conducted by the Tasmanian Planning Commission. Decisions by DAPs will be final;
  • Removing merits-based planning appeals via the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, undermining public confidence in the fairness and validity of the planning approval process, reducing the quality and consistency of public decision-making, public administration and government accountability;
  • Increasing Ministerial power to overrule councils increasing the risk of corruption and poor planning outcomes;
  • Forced council amalgamations, and

The Tasmanian Planning Scheme, which removes opportunities for councils and communities to have a say on future developments. Increasingly, land uses and developments can occur without public consultation or rights of appeal.

These five issues are explained in more detail below.

  1. Replacing councils with Development Assessment Panels (DAPs)

Please click here to read more about our key concerns and recommendations, background information, upcoming public events and how you can get involved in helping us #Scrapthe DAP and maintain Tasmania’s democracy – Say yes to a healthy democracy/Say no to the Liberals new Development Assessment Panels. 

  1. Removing merit-based planning appeal rights
  • If assessment and approval of developments are removed from the normal local council process and replaced by Development Assessment Panels (DAPs) there will be no right for the community to appeal the final decision on a development. That is the opportunity to lodge a merits-based planning appeal to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will be removed.
  • If DAPs replace councils, developments will only be appealable to the Supreme Court based on a point of law or process which are narrow in focus and prohibitively expensive.
  • Merit based planning appeals are the only avenue the community has to appeal developments based on planning-related grounds of objection such as height, bulk, scale, density, or appearance of buildings, impacts to streetscapes and adjoining properties including privacy, overlooking, provision of associated infrastructure etc
  • Merit-based planning appeals are an important way to increase avenues for the public to engage with planning. 
  • Merit based planning appeals are the only avenue the community has to hold decision-makers and developers to account and are an important way to increase avenues for the public to engage with planning.
  • Removing merits-based planning appeals also removes the opportunity for mediation and the potential for improving planning outcomes.
  • EDO NSW’s research findings (here) demonstrates how removing merits-based planning appeals has the potential to reduce good planning outcomes, both environmental and social.
  • Findings from NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), show removing merits-based planning appeals has the potential to increase corruption. ICAC has recommended the expansion of merit-based planning appeals as a deterrent to corruption.
  1. Top-down land-use rulings – increased Ministerial power to overrule local councils and force them to commence planning scheme changes
  • The Tasmanian Liberal Government proposes legislation to give the Minister for Planning new powers to instruct councils to commence planning scheme changes but perversely, only when a local council has rejected such an application. Currently it is the responsibility of local councils to initiate planning scheme amendments. 
  • The new powers would enable the Minister for Planning to instruct councils to commence changes to their planning schemes – like the highly contentious Cambria Green planning scheme amendment on Tasmania’s east coast – and not be the responsibility of local councils as is currently the case. The consequences of top-down land-use rulings might be seen in full only too late, by the generations that follow. 
  • Public comment on the proposed legislative changes closed on the 30 November 2023. See PMAT’s submission here and our submission guide here
  • Giving the Minister for Planning new power to overrule local council decisions is a backward step for Tasmania as it will decrease transparency, increase the politicisation of planning and increase risks of corrupt decisions. 
  • Placing the Minister for Planning in the middle of land use planning decision-making and giving one person the power to instruct councils to commence planning scheme changes, is likely to lead to poor planning outcomes.
  • It is understood that the proposed legislative changes will form part of the Draft Land Use Planning and Approvals (Development Assessment Panel) Amendment Bill 2024 which will be released for public comment most likely in January 2024, for a minimum of five weeks. The Bill could be tabled in the Tasmanian Parliament anytime from March 2024.
  • Elected members in the Tasmanian Parliament have already been called on by the community to oppose the Bill.
  • Giving the Minister for Planning new power to overrule local council decisions is a backward step for Tasmania as it will decrease transparency, increase the politicisation of planning and increase risks of corrupt decisions. 
  • Placing the Minister for Planning in the middle of land use planning decision-making and giving one person the power to instruct councils to commence planning scheme changes, is likely to lead to poor planning outcomes.
  • It is understood that the proposed legislative changes will form part of the Draft Land Use Planning and Approvals (Development Assessment Panel) Amendment Bill 2024 which will be released for public comment most likely in January 2024, for a minimum of five weeks. The Bill could be tabled in the Tasmanian Parliament anytime from March 2024.
  • Elected members in the Tasmanian Parliament have already been called on by the community to oppose the Bill.

4. Forced local Council Amalgamations

  • The current Tasmanian Government review into the Future of Local Government in Tasmania raises the potential for forced local council amalgamations.
  • As outlined in our submission regarding the future of Local Government, it is PMAT’s view is that local council amalgamations should only be voluntary and based on adopting the major elements required for successful amalgamations as outlined in peer-reviewed academic research such as Saving Local Government Financial Sustainability in a Challenging World by Joseph Drew (2022)[1].

The major elements for successful amalgamations are:

  • Those wishing to implement reforms must give good reasons and good evidence for acting.
  • Alternate treatments should be practised prior to more radical interventions.
  • Proposed amalgamations must be designed by bona fide experts, supported by evidence.
  • Community consultation must be focused on people, and be conducted in a thorough and genuine manner.
  • Amalgamations must be conducted in a morally licit manner. This means that the consent of (at least) the majority of citizens must be given before proceeding. It also means that grants should be made to ensure that no net debt is transferred to taxpayers as a consequence of amalgamations.
  • Adequate post-implementation support and review must be considered essential elements to amalgamation success.

A seventh element for successful amalgamations is community homogeneity.

  • Community homogeneity – Chapter 4 Boundary Change of Reforming Local Government by Drew (2020)[2], identifies community homogeneity as another critical consideration in successful amalgamations. Drew (2020) states that ‘If communities are relatively homogenous then it is easier for local governments to tailor goods and services to the standard required by residents’ and ‘Indeed, this desirability of community homogeneity tends to act as a limiting factor on size. Analysis of economies of scale might suggest the ‘remedy’ of amalgamation but if the adjoining local government areas are comprised of vastly different communities with very different tastes, then amalgamation might well end in disaster (a good case study is the de-amalgamation of Delatite Shire which occurred as a result of an earlier amalgamation of two completely different demographics; Drew and Dollery 2015[3]).In 1994, the Victorian Government instituted a radical council amalgamation program which eliminated over 60% of all local authorities. In the forcibly merged Delatite Shire Council local resentment engendered a sustained grassroots campaign which eventually reversed its contentious compulsory consolidation. The resultant de-amalgamation was the first in modern Australian local government history’.

[1] Drew, J., 2022, Saving Local Government Financial Sustainability in a Challenging World, Springer.

[2] Drew, J., 2020, Reforming Local Government, Springer.

[3] Drew, J., Dollery, B., 2015, Breaking up is hard to do: the de-amalgamation of delatite shire, Pub Finance Mgmt 15(1):1–23

PMAT’s concerns with forced council amalgamations

  • PMAT fears the State Government will repeat the mistakes of mainland Australia where forced amalgamations have failed to such an extent that councils are now demerging/de-amalgamating, such as Cootamundra-Gundagai in NSW.
  • Experience from mainland Australia shows forced amalgamations have poor outcomes for local communities and democracy, with loss of local representation, selling of public assets and land, loss of local council staffing and loss of local identity and decision making.
  • Peer-reviewed academic research (here and here) shows alarming impacts of the 2016 forced amalgamations on NSW local councils including reduced efficiency, increased costs for councils by over 11%; significantly increased property rates (Cootamundra-Gundagai increased rates by 53.5%); and financial failure of councils.
  • Phillip Island, Victoria, demonstrates the immense devastating financial, social and environmental impacts forced amalgamations can have on island and rural communities. Once a successful stand-alone council – declining municipal services and rising rates have been the hallmarks of forced amalgamation. Read Phillip Island’s forced amalgamation case study: History of Stand Alone Movement on Phillip Island and the Phillip Island Progress Association Submission.
  • The Tasmanian Government has the power to force council amalgamations to create fewer larger regional councils without Parliamentary scrutiny or community support.
  • Section 214E of the Local Government Act 1993 gives the State Government the power to sack councils and/or force amalgamations and to do so without Parliamentary oversight. As a result of a Local Government review, the Governor, by order and on the recommendation of the Minister for Local Government, has the power to abolish a municipal area; adjust and define the boundaries of a municipal area and abolish a council.
  • The Local Government Act 1993 should be amended to ensure that changes to local government boundaries or amalgamation of councils be approved by Parliament and not approved solely through the powers of the Minister for Local Government, as is currently the case.

5. The Tasmanian Planning Scheme

PMAT supports improving the Tasmanian Planning Scheme to ensure local councils and communities have a greater say on developments in their local area and places they care about:

  • PMAT originally formed in 2016 in response to concerns the Tasmanian Planning Scheme removed opportunities for councils and communities to have a say on future developments. Increasingly, uses and developments can occur without public consultation or rights of appeal. 
  • Commercial tourism developments, for example can be approved in most National Parks, Reserves and World Heritage Areas without guarantee of public consultation, and with no rights to appeal. This means the public has no guarantee of public comment and no appeal rights over public land on almost 50% of Tasmania.
  • Similar concerns exist with residential standards, where for example housing density and short stay accommodation (i.e. to facilitate population growth and tourism) are prioritised over good design and community well-being. Smaller block sizes, higher buildings built closer to fences, and multi-unit developments in all residential areas are allowed. Inadequate protections risk neighborhood amenity and character, privacy, sunlight in backyards, homes, gardens and on solar panels. Rights to challenge or improve inappropriate developments are very limited – including a house or multiunit development going up next door to you.
  • The current review of the State Planning Provisions (the rules that form the core of the Tasmanian Planning Scheme) is the best chance the community currently has to improve the statewide planning scheme. See PMAT’s State Planning Provisions submission here where we also engaged three expert planners to help us advocate for improvements to the statewide planning scheme.

News & Resources

PMAT does not support replacing councils with Development Assessment Panels (DAPs)

Related Submissions

Position Paper on a proposed Development Assessment Panel Framework. Submissions closed on the 30 November 2023, see PMAT’s submission here and our submission guide here.

Related Media

The review of the Future of Local Government (including forced amalgamations)

The Tasmanian Government is reviewing the Future of Local Government in Tasmania. The review has been running since 2018 and has been conducted in two parts:

Part 1 – Review of Tasmania’s Local Government Legislation Framework 2018 – 2020

This process included three phases which resulted in the implementation of 48 reforms after receiving broad support from the public, councils and stakeholders. Only three of the 51 reforms were strongly opposed and were not progressed. These were: 1) changing the way mayors and deputy mayors are elected; 2) introducing a candidate nomination fee; and 3) establishing Regional Councils. Note reform ‘#51 – Voluntary amalgamations: Voluntary amalgamations of two or more councils will be able to occur, without the need for a Local Government Board review. Councils will need to develop a business case to explore amalgamations but will no longer require a report from the Local Government Board, which is time and resource intensive.’ See 2018 – 2020 Local Government Review Detailed Timeline Summary FINAL.pdf.

Part 2 – The Future of Local Government in Tasmania 2021 to now

The Tasmanian Government commissioned the Local Government Board to review the Future of Local Government in Tasmania. The Review has been conducted over three stages with its final report released in November 2023. The Tasmanian Government has invited comment on the final report until 29 February 2024. You can read the final report here The-Future-of-Local-Government-Review-Final-Report.pdf (futurelocal.tas.gov.au) and a summary here FoLGR-Final-Report-Community-Summary-v.1.0.pdf (futurelocal.tas.gov.au).

Future of Local Government Review – Stage 2 Options Paper closed 19 February 2023. See details here https://www.futurelocal.tas.gov.au/publications/ and PMAT’s submission here.

Related Submissions

Future of Local Government Review – Stage 3 Options Paper closed 2 August 2023. See details here https://www.futurelocal.tas.gov.au/publications/ and PMAT’s submission here.

Future of Local Government Review – Stage 2 Options Paper closed 19 February 2023. See details here https://www.futurelocal.tas.gov.au/publications/ and PMAT’s submission here

Related Media

PMAT Media Release 18 July 2023: Removing democracy & communities from planning decisions

PMAT Media Release 16 July 2023: Government commitment on Council mergers a welcome relief. 

PMAT Media Release, 19 April 2023: Close to one half of all councils are opposed to amalgamation and almost no support from councils for the state government to take over planning.

PMAT Media Release, 3 April 2023: No consultative basis for Council amalgamations and stripping planning decisions from local representatives.  

PMAT Media Release, 16 February 2023: Scale of changes and dubious consultation prompts call for more community engagement on Local Government reform.

PMAT’s Talking Point: Changes to Council Requires Care, The Mercury, 16 February, 2023.

PMAT’s Talking Point: Vital to keep planning matters local, The Mercury, September 23, 2022.

Forced local council amalgamation case studies

A case study of the effects of forced local council amalgamations on Phillip Island, Victoria

  • Phillip Island, Victoria, demonstrates the immense devastating financial, social and environmental impacts forced amalgamations can have on island and rural communities. Once a successful stand-alone Council – declining municipal services and rising rates have been the hallmarks of forced amalgamation.
  • Read about Phillip Island’s forced local council amalgamation devastating case study: History of Stand Alone Movement on Phillip Island and the Phillip Island Progress Association Submission

A case study of the effects of the 2016 NSW forced local council amalgamations

  • In NSW, small local communities have declared they have been disenfranchised and experienced severe psychological distress due to forced amalgamations. Peer-reviewed academic research shows (see below) alarming impacts of the 2016 forced amalgamations on NSW local Councils including reduced efficiency, increased costs for councils by over 11%; significantly increased property rates eg Cootamundra-Gundagai increased rates by 53.5%; and forced amalgamations contributed to councils financially failing. For example, NSW’s Central Coast Council is now under administration, with fear other councils may suffer the same fate.
  • Roadmap for “complex” council demerger revealed, Inside Local Government, 6 February 2023.
  • Recent empirical peer-reviewed research in the scholarly literature on the effects of the 2016 NSW forced local council amalgamation program: Please see here the short summary on the findings of empirical research in the scholarly literature on the effects of the 2016 NSW forced amalgamation program. As outlined in the attached ‘it paints a damning portrait of the outcome of the municipal mergers’.
  • Fiscal outcomes arising from amalgamation: more complex than merely economies of scale by Joseph Drew, Dana McQuestin and Brian Dollery, January 2023.

Improve the Tasmanian Planning Scheme

The current review of the State Planning Provisions (the rules that form the core of the Tasmanian Planning Scheme) is the best chance the community currently has to improve the statewide planning scheme. See PMAT’s State Planning Provisions submission here where we also engaged three expert planners to help us advocate for improvements.

Also see the Tasmanian Planning Scheme section of our website (coming soon) which highlights our key concerns with the statewide scheme. 

Photo of Hobart City Council with thanks to Nina Hamilton.

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