COVID-19: amendments to keep the planning system moving in Victoria
By Meg Lee and Luke Denham
The Victorian Government has passed the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020, which amends environment, planning and local government laws to assist with keeping the planning system moving. However, significant amendments to the Environment Protection Act 1970, which were expected to be operational on 1 July 2020, will now be delayed.
When will the new Environment Protection Act commence?
The Environment Protection (Amendment) Act 2018 has been delayed until 1 December 2021 (or earlier by proclamation) to enable duty holders to focus on immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that the Government’s intention is to proclaim an earlier commencement date of 1 July 2021.
While the stated intention is to give business relief, this will also give the EPA more time to develop supporting materials to assist with implementing the new Act.
What changes have been made to the Local Government Act 2020?
A new Part 12 (effective from 1 May 2020 to 1 November 2020) will be inserted into the LGA which provides for the following changes:
Electronic attendance at Council meetings
Any legislative requirement that a person (eg a councillor) attend a council meeting or joint meeting of Councils; meeting of a delegated, joint delegated, or special committee; or a meeting of a governing body of a regional library, is satisfied if that person appears by electronic means.
Meetings to be made available on the website
Unless Council or a delegated committee thinks it necessary to close the meeting to the public (per s 66(2)(a)):
- any legislative requirement that a council meeting or joint meeting of Councils be made public is satisfied if the meeting is live streamed on Council’s website; and
- any legislative requirement that a meeting of a delegated committee, joint delegated committee, or special committee, be made public is satisfied if the meeting is live streamed on Council’s website or a recording is made available on that website ASAP after the meeting.
What changes have been made to the Planning and Environment Act 1987?
A new Part 10A (effective for six months from commencement) will be inserted which provides for the following changes:
Requirements to make documents available for inspection
Where an entity (eg a Council) must provide a document for inspection at their office, that entity can instead make it available to the general public on their website.
However, that entity cannot disclose on its website personal information about an individual who has applied for a planning permit or an amendment of a planning permit, or has made a submission or objection, unless:
- that individual consents or:
- it concerns the address of land that is the subject of that individual’s application, submission or objection.
Personal information may also be disclosed about such individuals to a person ‘on request’.
Where the Act requires a notice issued by an entity to specify a place(s) for inspection, it is sufficient if the notice specifies the entity’s website.
Modified rules about panel hearings
The requirement under section 160 for a panel to conduct its hearings in public is satisfied if the hearing is available to view by the public free of charge by electronic means (eg internet), during the meeting or ASAP afterwards.
Despite s162, if a person has a right to be heard by a panel or is called by panel, the panel can require an electronic hearing and, if the person is not present or represented at that hearing, make a decision in their absence.
This is a significant amendment that clarifies panel powers and is likely to make it difficult for any person to claim that a process has been infected by an error amounting to procedural unfairness.
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