Mark spoke today about how the planning system is failing our natural environment citing the recent approval by the State Planning Commission of a series of 20 private luxury accommodation buildings on the coast of Kangaroo Island in Flinders Chase National Park.
I want to speak today about how the planning system is failing our natural environment. The most disappointing example of this failure was the recent approval last week by the State Planning Commission of a series of 20 private luxury accommodation buildings in the heart of the wilderness on the coast of Kangaroo Island in Flinders Chase National Park. Why is it a problem? What is wrong with tourist development? Nothing. Development of an appropriate type at an appropriate scale in an appropriate location is absolutely fine, but the wrong development in the wrong location is not.
To understand the depth of feeling about this amongst people who care about the environment, to understand why the island's conservation volunteers have gone on strike in protest and to understand why hundreds of people have rallied on the steps of Parliament House, you have to appreciate that this is an area that has never before been developed. It is a wild rugged coastline and it is in the heart of a publicly owned national park. There are no buildings, there are no roads, there are no tracks, just the majesty and the splendour of the wilderness.
But the government tells us that this new private luxury accommodation is part of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. Is it? The trail is kilometres away from the site, for example the site at Sandy Creek. They will need to build new vehicle tracks and they will need to build new walking tracks. The vehicles will be up to two tonnes in weight and there need to be new walking tracks to connect this new private luxury development with the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.
If you read the management plan for the Flinders Chase National Park, it talks about development along the trail, not several kilometres from it. This failure of the planning system comes down to two main elements. There is a failure of policy and there is a failure of process. I want to focus mainly on the failure of process. The developments were processed by the State Planning Commission's assessment panel as category 1. That is the category used for the least contentious developments in this state. It is used for building a regular house on a regular suburban block in a regular part of one of our cities or towns.
What category 1 means is that there is no public consultation, no right to make a submission, no right to make a representation and no right to appeal, even when the decision is clearly bad and seriously at variance with the planning scheme. To make matters worse, the government kept the development application documents secret for as long as possible. My applications under the Freedom of Information Act were denied by both the environment department and the planning department.
The environment department simply lied to me and said they did not have them, when they did, and the second agency was simply gutless and took the view that the public was not entitled to know the extent of privatisation of our national parks. The documents were not made available until four days before the Planning Commission hearing, which the public was allowed to attend provided they did not say anything.
Ultimately, the Minister for Environment and Water admitted that they did have the documents but they would not release them to me because they did not own them or control them. Most remarkably, the environment minister justified the exclusion of the public from any involvement in the decision-making process by saying, in a letter to me just a week ago, the following:
I am advised the proposed development is following the standard approval pathway for the type of development in that location and it is appropriate that DEW does not have, nor seeks to have, a role in that process. Intervention in the development process, has the potential to undermine business confidence in development in South Australia.
The minister's department was not hands off. They were up to their neck in this. Officers of the department attended the hearings, they gave evidence to the State Planning Commission, they sat alongside the developer and they spruiked the benefits of the project to the assessment panel. The Department for Environment and Water officers were working hand in glove with the private developers.
If the minister believes that is inappropriate then clearly he has no idea what his department is doing. That is the most generous interpretation that I can put on his bizarre and clearly incorrect response to me. But it gets worse, because the State Planning Commission's assessment panel, when they first considered this matter a couple of weeks ago, deferred their decision. I have my suspicions as to why they did that. I think they had probably made up their mind already.
Interestingly, because no-one was able to put any alternative viewpoint and because they were advised by the planning department to say yes, that was exactly what they did, even despite the bullying of the proponent that suggested to them that they were not privatising our national parks fast enough and that the presiding member was not impartial.