Democracy Has The Death Rattles In NSW


The death of democracy in NSW was proclaimed in Sydney at the weekend. This won’t come as a surprise to many — democracy has had the death rattles for some time in this gimcrack state. But on Sunday, a hearse and mourners proceeded solemnly to Parliament House, flowers were laid and an epitaph recited. It was all conducted with the greatest respect.

The stunt, organised by a collective of about 30 residents’ associations representing some 60,000 people, highlights the desperation felt by many residents of this state as we watch our Government limp from scandal to crisis and back again.

Labor has been in power too long and it’s clear NSW Labor has got to go. As an ALP member I write this expecting the inevitable backlash from loyalists, but the fact is that the Labor Government in NSW has become stale, lazy and deaf to criticism.

The weekend’s rally drew particular attention to a couple of devices used by the Rees Government to ram through its agenda: Special Legislation and Part 3A planning regulations.

Special Legislation was used to get the V8 Supercars to Homebush and the rally circus to the Northern Rivers. It’s a simple device, which bypasses normal parliamentary processes and is designed to minimise debate — a bit like those dark days when medical staff put a difficult patient in a straight-jacket when they refused to co-operate.

As for Part 3A the premise is simple: the NSW Government usurps the right of local councillors and residents to decide on significant planning applications in their area.

But there’s more. In July, Planning Minister Kristina Keneally created Joint Regional Planning Panels (get the Orwellian touch?). The JRPP are, according to Keneally, "the next step in building Australia’s best planning system", and "another clear step in taking the politics out of the planning process".

Alarm bells should start to ring when phrases like "taking the politics out of…" drop easily from the lips of a minister. Regardless, the JRPP do nothing of the sort.

These panels, there are five of them, act like hit squads to determine "development proposals with a value between $10 million-$100 million, sub-divisions of more than 250 lots and specialist development proposals, such as eco-tourism, with a value in excess of $5 million".

Each has five members, of which three are appointed by Keneally, the two others nominated by a council. (The three state appointees are permanent, the other two rotating depending on which shire is under review.)

So, how "non-political" are they? As an illustration take the panel that covers the area where I live: the Northern Region from Tweed Heads in the north to Port Macquarie in the south, Liverpool Plains and Moree Plains in the west.

The three state appointees are: Garry West (chair), Pamela Westing and John Griffin. West is no stranger to Macquarie Street. He sat in the NSW Parliament for 20 years as a National Party MP until 1996, running a swag of departments including Tourism, Lands and Forests, Police and Emergency Services.

Westing is a former general manager of Byron Shire. After five years at Byron, her application for a two-year extension to her contract was refused by councillors in 2008. She now runs her own town planning and business management consultancy.

Griffin is a former general manager of the Tweed Shire Council — hardly a political virgin given the scandals over development applications and alleged but never prosecuted links between some councillors and developers in that shire. What is remarkable about Griffin’s appointment is that he was rejected as the local member by the council he ran for 15 years, only to pop up again as Keneally’s appointee.

Jobs for the boys and girls, while residents living in areas where major developments are proposed will find it even harder to make their voices heard.

Don’t expect anything to change though. Labor will limp on regardless, pretending all is well in the state of NSW. The powerbrokers in Macquarie Street know democracy is dead, but will they
say the last rites? Not a bit of it. Like Gordon Brown’s Labour Government in the UK they will continue to mouth platitudes, make plans for jobs outside of government — nice fat earners of course — and to hell with the rest of us.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.