23 April 2014 — Pru Goward and Rob Stokes are the two most important names in New South Wales’ built environment and planning regimes after a cabinet reshuffle this week. According to some observers they face a hot bed of environmental issues that have been building up pressure almost under the radar for government.
Ms Goward, former minister for family and community services, is now planning minister. She will replace Brad Hazzard, who has been stymied in his ambitions to finally deliver planning reforms to the state, which have stalled in the Upper House since November, after the rise of fierce organised community opposition.
Rob Stokes has been appointed assistant planning minister and also minister for environment and heritage, replacing Robyn Parker.
It will be a tough new role for Ms Goward, but perhaps the reasoning in her appointment by new minister Mike Baird is that if she can tough out her former portfolio through a constant stream of bad news on families and children, then she might be able to stare down opposition to planning reform.
Good luck on that one. The Better Planning Network has unleashed an effective and highly organised campaign determined to hold back what it fears will be a floodgate of easy approvals for developers at the expense of community participation.
The development lobby says the planning system holds back redevelopment and densification of urban areas that are badly needed and forces more people to the fringes of the city.
Sustainability advocates also want to see better more efficient planning outcomes but can see the danger in the reforms potential to rollover environmental concerns in the haste to deliver the economic outcomes so badly wanted by the state.
When the O’Farrell government came to power three years ago it made clear through a major address to the property industry, delivered by newly appointed chair of UrbanGrowth NSW John Brogden, that it considered the property industry critical to the economic future of the state.
Mining and environment protection are also increasingly volatile issues.
The NSW government, alone among other conservative jurisdictions around the country, has been earning guarded praise from sustainability and environmental observers for its more positive stance on these issues.
In particular it has continued to support energy efficiency measures in its own building portfolios and those of the private sector while other governments have slashed theirs. Victoria, for instance, recently dismantled its highly regarded Greener Government Buildings Program, considered lucrative for government coffers and “capacity building” for the energy efficiency sector.
But other critics have pinpointed an almost dual carriageway of performance by the NSW government on environment.
Longstanding director of the Total Environment Centre Jeff Angel, for instance, said this week before the cabin reshuffle was announced that the O’Farrell government had rolled out “mini-green announcements and maxi-rollbacks” on environmental issues.
“For example, a few bits of new national park but then systemic attacks on the laws (such as planning, marine and native vegetation protection), which have a pervasive effect of taking environment protection backwards across the state,” Mr Angel said.
New premier Mike Baird had several “burning green issues” to deal with, Mr Angel said.
There were moves to dismantle land clearing and threatened species laws and mining in and under water catchments.
Another was the “failure to act on a 10 cent deposit/refund scheme for the billions of drink containers littered or landfilled in NSW”.
“I’d also encourage the government to embrace the job and investment opportunities from environment protection, whether it’s from renewable energy or more recycling or biodiversity restoration or sustainable agriculture.”
Among other new appointments are Troy Grant in hospitality, gaming and racing and arts; Andrew Stoner in the tourism and major events portfolios; Andrew Constance as Treasurer; Dominic Perrottet in finance and services; and Paul Toole in local government.
Gladys Berejiklian, now deputy leader, retains transport.
Greens MP John Kaye told media that Mr Baird had assembled ”a pro-privatisation cabinet that will also lead the state into a no-holds-barred law-and-order auction election campaign”.