Preliminary Statement
We applaud the vision Justice Iain Ross has for 'transforming VCAT' and sincerely hope that he is successful
MEG (Malvern East Group) is involved only with planning issues.   We seek to advise members re process both at Council and VCAT levels and to empower them as self-represented parties.
Key Issues
We support the following 5 items:-
1. Accountability...i.e. an effective complaints mechanism.
                                    enhanced disclosure.
                                    the provision of recordings of hearings at low cost.
2Providing all Victorians With Access to a Fair present hearings are heavily weighted against residents opposing a Permit for a Planning Application.   Altering the order of presentation with the applicant presenting first or, at the very least, allowing the R.A. and/or residents a final summing up would provide some 'fairness' to the proceedings.
3.   An increase in Appropriate Dispute Resolution in the form of mediation hearings is welcome.   There is a problem for residents re this process...i.e. unless one has been party to a mediation hearing and as these hearings are not "open" we have no way of advising our members of the process.   Process should be outlined to the parties concerned and details should be on the VCAT website.
4.   Community Engagement Consultative Process and the proposed survey of parties re their VCAT experience are forward steps.
5.   Fair and Accessible   The emphasis on the provision of information and assistance particularly for self-represented parties, twilight hearings and the use of a variety of venues are all very acceptable propositions.
Final Comments
(a) We agree with Justice Ross that the VCAT website requires up-dating and clarification of procedure.
(b) There are certain actions with regard to hearings about Planning Applications that we believe should be given particular attention.   The issue of amended plans is controversial.   If amended plans have not been considered by the R.A. and the residents, VCAT members should not allow them to considered first at VCAT.   They must be circulated at least a month before the hearing.   If they are a 'transformation' of the original plans the applicant must return to the R.A. with a new application.
(c) The "second bite at the cherry" should be stopped.   This is where the Member at the end of the hearing tells the applicant to go away and "fix these things up and bring the plans back to me" in a given time.   This practice constitutes the Member placing VCAT in the role of a de facto planning authority.   If certain matters have to be "fixed up" the applicant should be advised of a Refusal to Grant a Permit and he/she has to start again with the R.A.
(d) Due consideration to Local Policy must be given by VCAT members.
(e) Consistency in decision-making has to be addressed.   So much still depends on "who you get."
(f) Consistency is required too in "who can present to VCAT."   It is our understanding that original objectors who "submit grounds" to VCAT have the automatic right to be heard.   An objector who does not "submit grounds" can request "to be joined as a party."   This seems to have changed somewhat and on occasions a member of the 'audience' is asked if he/she wishes to comment.   This matter requires clarification.   What is the process?
Ann Reid (for MEG Wkg Gr.)
Malvern East Group  MEG Supports PLANNING BACKLASH
C/- 14 Chanak Street,
Malvern East Vic 3145
Phone/Fax     9572 3205