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Building & Construction (Regulatory Reform Amendments) Bill 2020

[12.07 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the honourable Leader's office for the detailed briefings yesterday. They clarified many parts of the bill for me. I also appreciated the detailed correspondence from Local Government Association of Tasmania on behalf of its member councils. I sought confirmation with regard to LGATs correspondence from two of my local councils and was advised by the general manager from Launceston that, while they were not overly concerned with the bill, they agreed with LGAT's comments and suggestions.

It is entirely appropriate that the Government explores the Keynesian-style option of creating supply by enacting building and construction works to stimulate the economy, incentivise private investment, create jobs and promote ongoing and sustainable capital works projects. According to the Rebuilding Tasmania report produced by the Master Builders Tasmania and Civil Contractors Federation Tasmania, for every $1 spent on building construction projects, $2.90-worth of activity is created in the economy. The report states that -

This multiplier means stimulus in the building and construction industry is one of the most effective options for the government to boost activity and support the recovery effort post COVID-19.

In the past, enacting large-scale public works in infrastructure and construction has helped to drive and expedite economic recovery. With the right settings and lessons learned from past external shocks and recovery periods, there is an opportunity to be had. However, in order to achieve this, the legislative framework must contain the right settings to most effectively channel our scarce resources and eliminate unnecessary red tape. If this is not done correctly or if there is a lack of clarity in guidance, if efforts between parallel organisations become duplicated or unnecessary burdens are placed on any of these bodies, these precious resources will be channelled away from their intended purpose toward clearing up a mess that should never have existed in the first place.

To that end I would like to be sure that while the bill before us seems to be good in overall substance, no tweaks to various provisions are required.

I say this because, as I am sure others are aware, the Local Government Association of Tasmania has some issues with this bill. LGAT's Chief Executive Officer, Dr Katrena Stephenson, has advised there was little local government consultation in the lead-up to the bill being introduced in the House in early June and as a consequence, in Dr Stephenson's words - 'failed to acknowledge the critical role the local government sector plays in Tasmania's regulatory system'.

I completely support any legislative provision that creates time frames for permit decisions where none exist, streamlines ones which do and allows for permit decisions to be made concurrently rather than successively. As it is said, time is money, and there is no circumstance where that adage is truer than in the building and construction sector.

There needs to be surety for developers, whether mum and dad or commercial, of a realistic time frame. We heard in briefings that the 42-day clock does not commence until payment of the invoice for applicable fees. This is a glitch in the system because, of course, if the invoice is not issued in a timely manner, the clock does not start until it is paid.

I appreciate it may be difficult for some councils with a smaller workforce. For that reason I am pleased to see that if the invoice for fees is not made within four business days, for the purposes of the act, the application is to be taken as having been received on the fifth business day. This will provide some surety for developers.

I also understand that no penalty provisions will be contained in these regulations. I feel, however, that a prescriptive approach to reporting on implementation and ongoing timeliness of delivering on these new obligations may be required. Of course, these probably do not need to be formally legislated, but I encourage the Government and the minister to think about what kind of benchmarks they would like to see met, what quantitative data need to be collected to assess that, and discuss with utility providers how this information can be gathered.

I further note that the issue of timing has been raised. For example, the proposed amendment to section 54 of the LUPAA changes the time period in which a planning authority must notify an application where the request for additional information has been satisfied from 14 days to five business days. These amendments seem reasonable enough for simple applications, but I question whether complex applications can be assessed satisfactorily in such a time frame.

A number of assessments - many of which require analysis of safety and involve potential hazards - need to be considered, often in conjunction with external stakeholders, who under these amendments are not liable for meeting time frames, but for which the planning authorities will have no power to compel or expedite these processes. The Leader might be able to address that in her summing up.

I further encourage the Government and the minister to ensure there is a close productive working relationship that goes beyond the implementation of these provisions. I note that the proposed amendment to section 56 of LUPAA, while I understand is generally supported by stakeholders, provides minimal clarity as to what constitutes a minor amendment to a planning permit.

As Dr Stephenson of LGAT has pointed out, currently the provision is very open to interpretation, which causes conflict between proponents, planning authorities and representatives. I urge consideration of what kind of criteria ought to be used to make these assessments and to maintain a positive ongoing relationship with all stakeholders, to ensure that there is clarity around the meaning and understanding of these provisions, and to work with stakeholders when ambiguity eventuates.

When building, it would be easy to get on site and realise you want to make a minor amendment. It could be simply to make the window slightly larger, or move something on the plan, but currently councils do not have a time frame for a minor amendment. It can take 42 days to consider the development, but when there is a minor amendment there is no time frame, with the possibility of a minor amendment taking months to approve.

I do not believe it is unreasonable for a minor amendment to be addressed within 28 days, as by their very nature they are minor. It is simply putting in a time frame where one does not exist, or if they have to notify neighbours et cetera when someone cannot be reached. These are things that were raised in briefings which should be taken into consideration.

Ms Forrest - Mr President, having been on council, you probably know the answer to this: with a minor amendment, do you have to notify neighbours? I did not think you had to with a minor amendment.

Ms ARMITAGE - It would depend on the minor amendment, from my time on council. Certainly, if someone was actually overlooking another property, you would obviously have to. It depends how minor it is really - that would not be a minor amendment.

Mr Valentine - It cannot be minor if it is an overlooking issue.

Ms ARMITAGE - That is what I mean; it would depend on what it was. I would assume minor would be something like a larger window or, as we heard in briefings, moving something slightly. Minor.

The classification of a minor amendment to a house could be very different to a minor amendment to a commercial property. Without a degree of flexibility, the council may have to refuse an amendment.

Minor amendments, from my recollection on council - and the member for Windermere will possibly agree - was when we were looking at things like that as a planning authority.

You could not change something to someone's improvement to someone else's detriment. That was something that always came up as a planning authority. It was not fair to give someone something better if you were making something worse for someone else.

It is an interesting area in planning, but I am not sure many councils have much to do with planning now.

Ms Rattray - Delegated authority.

Ms ARMITAGE - As a council, yes. It was very unfortunate that things became delegated authority, and a lot of things were taken out of the hands of councillors. One of the sayings when I was on council was that you should never improve one person's property to the detriment of another.

With regard to TasNetworks and TasWater, it is about being engaged earlier. While TasWater is happy to look at developments from day one, as we heard TasNetworks will not look at a development until planning has been approved, which could be 42 days. This can cause a considerable delay, as they can go into up to a 10-week design period, after which you then go into a queue.

Under these changes, council will notify TasNetworks, and they will then be compelled to negotiate with proponents. People do need to know time frames, and should be able to rely on these statutory time frames. That is a very good change.

I understand the need to reduce red tape, and to tidy up some aspects of building construction. It is an area from which I regularly receive complaints. I have already sent an email to Mr Clues, and I am sure over the next weeks I will be having more correspondence with both Mr Kerschbaum and Mr Clues. In my electorate, the building act would be the area that I get the most serious complaints, because it is someone's most expensive asset, and when it goes wrong. it is a terrible situation.

I have been looking for some time at the Building Act. In the past I have spoken with the member for Murchison with regard to the Building Act when it came under that committee. I have seriously considered an inquiry into the Building Act, but it could be something that would be never-ending. It would be very difficult to get an outcome in a timely manner.

I am hoping that Mr Clues and Mr Kerschbaum can assist with the tranches we have.

Ms Forrest - Fit it into their schedule.

Ms ARMITAGE - There are more tranches coming up, and perhaps we can make some changes that might assist.

Ms Forrest - Not to the Building Act.

Mrs Hiscutt - Perhaps you could make a submission.

Mr Gaffney - And take the response time from 14 days to five days.

Ms ARMITAGE - I do not see them nodding. Member for Mersey, I do not think they are looking favourably towards that.

As for this particular bill before us, I appreciate LGAT has some relevant concerns on behalf of its member councils. Everyone would agree that while the system is not broken, there is certainly room for improvement.

I support the bill.

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