Anthony Roberts

On 25 February 1956, the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, gave a secret speech denouncing the policies of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin.

Rumours about the speech circulated for years after the fact, but it was not released to the public. Only the supreme leader’s closest allies, his “inner party”, were allowed to be in the room when it was delivered. No official transcript was kept.

Secret speeches aren’t supposed to happen in a democracy. We’re supposed to have an open and accountable government.

Yet on Tuesday 5 April 2022, the New South Wales planning community experienced its own secret speech.

NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts delivered a speech at a lunch event organised by developer lobby group Urban Taskforce Australia.

Like Khrushchev years before, we know Minister Roberts denounced the policies of his predecessor, Robert Stokes.

We know that during the speech, the minister announced that the state government had decided to dump a vital planning reform, known as the design and place state environmental planning policy, or the DP SEPP.

As The Fifth Estate has previously reported, this broad-ranging policy package set out a best practice principles approach to building walkable communities and sustainable buildings. It included a new Urban Design Guide, a revision to the state’s Apartment Design Guide and an overhaul of the state’s basic building sustainability rules, or BASIX.

Alarmingly, The Fifth Estate understands that the Minister did not consult with key industry stakeholders, such as the Australian Institute of Architects or the Planning Institute of Australia, before making his decision to dump the proposal.

Knowing the reasons why the minister made the decision he did is clearly a matter for the public interest. This is a decision that will have a big impact on a range of sectors, from planning to architecture and construction. It will affect everyone who buys or rents a new apartment or lives in a new subdivision for years to come.

But here’s the thing.

Unless you are part of the “inner party” of developers for that luncheon, you can’t find out what, exactly, he said.

As of today (Friday 8 April), the speech does not appear on Anthony Roberts’ website.

It doesn’t appear on the NSW Liberal Party website.

It’s not on the NSW Department of Planning and Environment website.

It was not sent out through the department’s mailing list.

We asked for a copy direct to the planning department and were told, no, it would not be made available. 

The email we received said:

“Unfortunately, we can’t share the speech with you but please find clarification to your questions below. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Well yes, we need a lot more.

The additional matters we asked clarification on are:

  • To clarify, does this mean that there are still separate SEPPs in place for residential apartment development and BASIX?


  • Does this mean that SEPP 65 remains in force?

“Yes it will remain in force with no change”

  • If SEPP 65 does not remain in force, can you clarify what the relevant SEPP is for the construction of residential apartment buildings?


“Yes it will remain in force with no change”

  • Will the residential design SEPP and the BASIX SEPP still be consolidated into a single SEPP, without the additional changes proposed as part of the design and place SEPP? 

“BASIX will remain a standalone SEPP.”

The closest that the public and many businesses get to knowing what Minister Roberts said about the decision is a single line on a media release that reads: “Following extensive consultation with industry and stakeholder groups the NSW Government will not introduce the State Environmental Planning Policy for Design and Place.”

In short, just like Kruschev, the minister delivered a secret speech to his inner party.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev

Now obviously, we’re not comparing the current NSW government to the murderous brutality of the former USSR’s leaders. But, at the same time, the level of openness and transparency around this major decision is not what we would expect in a modern, democratic country. 

Over the past week, The Fifth Estate has heard from countless professionals, businesses and peak bodies across the broader building, planning and construction sector who are dismayed at the minister’s decision on the SEPP.

For balance, we’d love to tell you why the minister made the decision he did, in his own words, by publishing his speech.

But right now, we can’t. 

Surely, if the minister has consulted extensively with industry and stakeholder groups (as he has claimed) and has set out clear and well thought through reasons for abandoning the policy, there would be no issue in him publishing the speech, right?

We don’t live in 1950s Soviet Russia.

In a democracy, when governments make decisions that affect our jobs, our businesses, our industries, or our homes, then we citizens have a right to know what those decisions were, and how they were made.

It’s time for the NSW state government to be transparent about major planning policy.

And it’s time for Minister Roberts to sit down and have a talk to other industry groups, including planners and architects. Not just the “inner party” of developers.

The Fifth Estate is filing a Freedom of Information Request for a full transcript of Minister Roebrt’s speech, checked against delivery. Once we receive a copy, we will publish it in full. 

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  1. I, for one, would like to know what Mr Roberts actually said in his speech to developers. The fact that it is being withheld suggests negative reasons. Mr Roberts is actually one of those tricky politicians who runs with the fox and hunts with the hounds. Like many of the Coalition I trust him not one iota. And I used to be a liberal voter !!!

  2. Governmental transparency is a given in a democracy, I would’ve thought. To find it not so, is the sign of an authoritarian in charge, a situation that cannot be put up with.

    Minister Roberts hasn’t had this portfolio all that long. There’s still time for him to learn what’s important … I definitely recommend him sitting down and listening to planners, architects and other people who know the importance of social and environmental considerations.

  3. As serious as it may be, the secrecy aspect is not the more serious of the matters: it is demonstrably, wilfully irresponsible to ‘sentence’ future populations to avoidable, higher temperatures, in the process ensuring unnecessarily-high electricity useage and concomitant environmental flow-on impacts, flying in the face of both logic and science, let alone commonsense

    It is fact that a black or dark-charcoal roof is multiples-of-10 degrees higher in surface temperature than a light-coloured or, say, green roof on a 35-degree day

    To claim that the load that builders and developers have to bear is too great is arrant nonsense in the extreme

    One might conjecture what brings the new Minister to be so closely rubbing shoulders with the building industry

    Mr P.! get Rob Stokes back in the seat, if you genuinely wish for the public to favour you and you mob at the next election… imagine, if you can, a concerted campaign with no let-up just on this subject, over the coming 12 months, targeted at the broader community but also firmly concentrated on those living in the pouter suburban ovens. Remember: the Ides Of March are not so much about killing, but the time when debts are settled

  4. Clearly this government have not learned that secrecy, fudging or outright lying, just won’t wash with voters anymore. During Covid we have all had ample time to observe just what hasn’t been delivered as promised from previous elections. We are overdeveloped especially in Western Sydney, design is ill-considered and costs to residents are going through the roof as only developers needs are being listened to despite valid advice from planners and architects. This needs to stop! This voter is putting Minister Roberts and the Liberal government at the bottom or of the scrap heap for ignoring what is needed and wasting taxpayer monies.

  5. I totally agree with the assertions of Fifth Estate that the NSW Minister for Planning must: It’s time for the NSW state government to be transparent about major planning policy.

    It’s time for Minister Roberts to sit down and talk to other industry groups, including planners and architects. Not just the “inner party” of developers.

  6. Profound backward step apparently instigated and supported by the new found Premier of Pirrouette. Inexcusable , illogical, nonsensical and blatant avoidance of the responsibility of public office.

  7. 100 per cent spot on – Roberts has handed NSW back to the developers just when need them most to grasp a more sustainable way forward. This secrecy is totally at odds with democratic political system. We should not have to lodge an FOI application to get access to it.