Protecting   our liveability today for tomorrow



PLANNING BACKLASH Inc is a coalition of 150+ resident groups across city coast and country attempting to prevent the destruction of |Melbourne and Victoria by overdevelopment




We are pleased that a Review is taking place and that Justice Iain Ross has picked up where Justice Bell left off.
We note with interest the points printed by Justice Ross in his Discussion Paper    May 2010   Transforming VCAT and take this opportunity to respond to the points.
Al these points raised are fair and there are some tangible suggestions for improvement. However much of it is simply nice words and don’t relate to reality in VCAT.    
Certainly having some hearings outside of VCAT building, in the country and outer suburban would be helpful. This is something we asked for.
A big point was made about Members taking an oath.   I cannot believe this makes any difference to their performance.   Justice Ross is trying to improve consistency - I would like to know how. At the moment it is hopeless.   This is certainly something we all made a big point about.
Recordings being available is a good move - we asked for this.
Pro bono legal service is something we have talked about and it sounds a good idea. However would these pro bono lawyers be any match for the QCs used by developers?
Getting rulings faster, maybe has advantages but not important.   On the other hand having Members do the ruling before they take on another case is good so they have clear memories.
Having cases reconstituted would be possible, of course it might go against us on the odd occasion we win.
Being able to lodge complaints is something we would appreciate. At the moment ’no correspondence will be entered into’ system is unfair.
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So far as I can see it mainly window dressing with nice words and only
minor changes.   We Resident Group leaders made it very clear to Justice Bell the things we wanted changed and it is disappointing that some of our main points are not referred to by him and other points are refused.
a) We all want a change in order of presentation of speakers.   We want the developers first, then the council and the residents. We do think the way it is now is fair ie with council and residents first and then developers and we get no right of reply.    Very very unfair.   So if you really want fairness then change the order and let both sides have right of reply
Justice Bell told me that he agreed with me and it is very disappointing not to find that important point mentioned.
This is one aspect that upsets us more than most points we have against VCAT because of its unfairness.     We put our case and the developers listen and have experts primed to answer our points and we have no way of refuting them later.    It makes us furious.
b)   We believe that VCAT should be for Review only and should not a de facto planning authority and that is what is has made itself into. I am sure because the |Members think they know better than the Councils.
The developers use this to their advantage and bring late changes. These should be sent back to the Responsible Authority and have a new application. So it takes longer but in the end a better and fairer result.
c)   Local Policy should receive more weight at VCAT.   They seem to only consider Melbourne 2030 or whatever they are calling it now Melbourne@5million.   They should give equal, if not more weight, to Local Policy.
d)   We discussed with Justice Bell the layout of the hearing room. Residents are put at great disadvantage the way it is now.    The developers Barrister always takes front position and spreads out wide with papers everywhere and bags all over the place.    When residents speak they have to stumble over bags and find a little space to put his things at the far end of the table and usually ends up having the developers Barrister sitting round the corner from him and that is very intimidating because of the way they behave.
It would be much fairer on nervous residents to have the Barrister sit back in the gallery and give residents free access to the table when it is their turn to speak.
We would like to see the use of top QCs and expert witnesses reduced in VCAT.    It is far from a level playing field and far from FAIR. We see it as justice for the rich.   I am sure in the court system you are from that is the case, but in this grass roots level of legality, surely it is unfair that these high powered high priced witnesses are up against little ordinary residents trying to protect the area they live and love.   They are intimidated by these experts and especially by some of these QCs who obviously have a cosy relationship with the Members and at times are quite rude to resident witnesses, no doubt to try to destroy their confidence. I never hear a Member reprimanding them. In fact it happened to me not long ago and the developers lawyer kept interrupting me and the Member did not say a word.
We would much rather make it a level playing field and the developer speaks for himself and the council speak for themselves and residents speak for themselves as they mostly do now.
This is not justice or fair.    Whether having probono help would help I don’t know.   I have watched junior lawyers being also intimidated by these QCs.
Justice Bell considered that this situation should go on.   We find that disappointing.
I know of course that Justice Ross implied that the only thing we should do is get the legislation changed to get real change in VCAT.   You know that we are trying to do just that as we Rally on the Steps of Parliament against new and worse regulations the Government is trying to bring in.
Everything is stacked against what the people really want, so VCAT should try to make it Truly Fairer by taking on board the changes we suggest, some of which surely could be done internally without government approval eg order of presentation and stopping being a de facto planning authority and to give proper weight to local policy.
We note with disdain that the only change rushed through by the Attorney General was fast tracking big developments.   We object strongly to this as we know it simply makes the destruction of Melbourne even faster.
Mary Drost OAM
Convenor Planning Backlash Inc
Coalition of 150+ groups across city coast and country
34 Prospect Hill Road
Camberwell 3124
Tel 9882 4453   0401 834 899
PLANNING BACKLASH Inc is a coalition of 150+ resident groups across city coast and country attempting to prevent the destruction of |Melbourne and Victoria by overdevelopment.