In a pre-election forum for small businesspeople in the inner west in March, the three major-party candidates elaborated on their visions for local businesspeople – with ‘state significant’ planning laws forming a point of contention between the contenders.
In her opening address, sitting state Labor member Verity Firth acknowledged the prolific number of shopping strips throughout the inner west, which she described as historic and “virtually unique”.
“Everything possible needs to be done to protect them against large-scale commercial development,” she said, citing her fierce opposition to the Tigers and Annandale Woolworths applications. “We have to make sure everything we do is about [small business’] economic prosperity, because I think that goes to the heart of what’s great about the inner west, and also about local jobs, local job promotion and sustainable lifestyles.”
But asked about the government’s record under Part 3A, she was forced to concede the policy had been abused in its breadth of scope allowing ‘state significant’ developments. Instead, she focused on defending her record as a local member in fighting overdevelopment. “I just do the best I can with the circumstances which I am dealt,” she said.
“I think anyone could look at my record and say I have always argued for local councils to make these decisions – I have never argued that anything should be a Part 3A, even if they were eligible,” she said. “[That said,] I think that the 3A processes themselves are not as totally autocratic as they’re often portrayed – there is a process through the department, there are evidence-based processes based on planning laws, plus of course statutory requirements for public exhibitions and submissions.”
But the Greens’ Jamie Parker described 3A as indefensible. “I have respect for the work that Verity’s done and understand the difficult position she’s in, but you cannot defend that process,” he said. “We’ve seen the minister overturn advice from his own department – how is that in any way justifiable, especially when there’s the perception of corruption through developer donations?”
Liberal candidate James Falk described the crux of the problem as a poorly-designed decision-making structure and an inadequate definition of what constituted a ‘state significance’ development. He said the Liberals would conduct a planning inquiry to ensure the process was “completely transparent and understood by the community.”