ANALYSIS: NSW environment and climate supporters would have been in shock on Tuesday afternoon. Early news had just seeped out that newly re-anointed premier Gladys Berijiklian looked like she’d reneged on the still fresh optimism on climate action she stoked in the weeks before the state election and had demolished the Office of Environment and Heritage.
OEH would now be subsumed into a mega-department or “cluster” of planning and industry headed by Rob Stokes who previously held the role before being unceremoniously dumped during a reshuffle.
More than a few staff at OEH were left wondering if they had jobs in the new regime. The agency’s chief executive Anthony Lean indicated to staff he was seeking “clarification on the impact to the heritage function…and [will] endeavour to provide further information to you as soon as I am able.”
Making sense is the merging of environment and energy, but how that works when these two functions will sit inside planning, is still an unknown and a worrying one when you look at the big picture and the priority drivers for government policy (below).
Also dissolved would be the department of local government, to be also merged into Planning, and Urban Growth and the Barangaroo Delivery Authority with both these agencies transferred to Infrastructure NSW to be headed by Simon Draper as chief executive.
Roads and Maritime Services would be merged into a transport cluster.
Among the biggest of these new clusters would be an outfit that seems to come straight from Marketing Central, the Customer Service Cluster, under minister Victor Dominello.
This new cluster will have the authority to “plan prioritise, fund and drive digital transformation and customer service across every cluster in the NSW government.” according to a circular sent by Tim Reardon, secretary for the Department of Premier and Cabinet obtained by The Fifth Estate.
So what does it all mean?
For the built environment, here’s a hint: On Tuesday afternoon Urban Taskforce’s chief executive Chris Johnson was happy and said the move signalled greater coordination, between infrastructure and planning.
Balanced against that rosy view is that under its now former incarnation OEH issued dissenting views on plans from the department if they looked like they would be problematic for the environment or natural habitat. Will that continue and bravery prevail?
It’s important to remember that the property industry has forever been demanding a more “streamlined” co-ordinated approval processes. Its heart’s desire is that it can eliminate the multiple agencies it needs to seek approvals from and get just one “yes”.
It helps to remember that the Greater Sydney Commission has already been absorbed into the premier’s department where its strategic activities can be more closely monitored to align with government. The idea of a planning agency at arms length from government – the semi independence we lost years ago when planning became politicised – is further away than ever.
Closer to government now is control of the very things that have loomed up to drive voters to distraction and motivate them to vote one way or another, the built environment and climate issues. Clearly, there was anger but not enough (and not enough talent demonstrated by the former ALP state leader whateverhisnamewas) to persuade voters to switch sides.
Premier says not to worry – Labor says worry
On the recent changes the Premier hastened to assure voters that the subsuming of OEH into a giant planning department was a good thing.
But acting leader of the Opposition Penny Sharpe said it was a betrayal of voters after Berijiklian promised a bigger focus on climate and the environment.
NSW was now become the only state without an environment department, Sharpe said.
“One of the first acts of the Premer – after talking a lot about the environment during the election – is to abolish the Office of Environment,”
“This is a terrible outcome for the environment of NSW and it’s a betrayal for [voters],” she told The SMH.
Among urgent issues needing attention are more than 1000 plant and animal species threatened with extinction, an 800 per cent increase in land-clearing during the past three years, and waterways “that are in crisis”, she said.
And Rob Stokes might be very talented and have a strong background in planning but he told the kids they should not have gone out on strike for the climate.
As one observer close to government said today, “he’s a conservative. You have to remember that.”
It’s a good lesson. Like Stokes, Kean, Barillaro and Berijiklian may all be members of the moderates in the Libs, but all are conservatives and will likely put other issues ahead of climate and environment. This is a matter of history, especially recent history.
Maybe the strategic thinking behind the creation of these vast new centres of government is not to get the best independent advice from the highly committed public servants, but to get the most streamlined outcomes that fit with the loudest voices in the corridors.
In the face of a falling property market, it’s not brain surgery to guess that a big fear will be the state losing its AAA credit rating and that government will pull out all stops so that its biggest contributor to economic activity, development and infrastructure, is fast-tracked.
The Chinese have departed our shores and the banking royal commission has put a spanner in the works for the finance sector, which had been fanning this recent boom with its ears pinned back.
Now it’s time to find ways to re-stoke the property boom.
Having all those pesky ministries and agencies muted or at least muffled inside one giant powerful portfolio would be a handy thing.
Is anyone seriously suggesting that protecting the koalas can and keeping our water safe will stop the Harry Triguboffs of the world?
Here’s the new lineup – NSW Cabinet Ministers
The Honourable Gladys Berejiklian MP
The Honourable (John) Giovanni Domenic Barilaro MP
Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional New South Wales, Industry and Trade
The Honourable Dominic Francis Perrottet MP
The Honourable Paul Lawrence Toole MP
Minister for Regional Transport and Roads
The Honourable Donald Thomas Harwin MLC
Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, and the Arts, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council
The Honourable Andrew James Constance MP
Minister for Transport and Roads, Leader of the House
The Honourable Bradley Ronald Hazzard MP
Minister for Health and Medical Research
The Honourable Robert Gordon Stokes MP
Minister for Planning and Public Spaces
The Honourable Mark Raymond Speakman SC MP
Attorney General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
The Honourable Victor Michael Dominello MP
Minister for Customer Service
The Honourable Sarah Mitchell MLC
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning
The Honourable David Andrew Elliott MP
Minister for Police and Emergency Services
The Honourable Melinda Jane Pavey MP
Minister for Water, Property and Housing
The Honourable Stuart Laurence Ayres MP
Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney
The Honourable Matthew John Kean MP
Minister for Energy and Environment
The Honourable Adam John Marshall MP
Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales
The Honourable Anthony John Roberts MP
Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections
The Honourable Shelley Elizabeth Hancock MP
Minister for Local Government
The Honourable Kevin John Anderson MP
Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation
The Honourable Dr Geoffrey Lee MP
Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education
The Honourable Anthony John Sidoti MP
Minister for Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans
The Honourable Bronwyn Taylor MLC
Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women
The Honourable Gareth James Ward MP
Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services
The Honourable Damien Francis Tudehope MLC
Minister for Finance and Small Business