Media Release

1 February 2020

The NSW Labor Opposition has welcomed the main findings from the inquiry into the Independent Planning Commission but is concerned some recommendations will undermine its independence.

The Liberal-National Government today announced it had accepted all recommendations from an extensive review into the IPC by the NSW Productivity Commission. It means the IPC will undergo a major overhaul with new performance benchmarks and processes, as well as new Commissioners.

Labor Leader in the Legislative Council and Shadow Minister for Planning & Better Living Adam Searle outlined three key problems with the current IPC: 

  • The lack of proper resourcing by the Berejiklian Government;
  • The absence of structural separation from the department of planning (it is staffed by officers of the department); and
  • The fact it has part-time instead of permanent members. 

“The Labor Opposition agrees the IPC should be a separate and independent agency, but to be effective it must also be properly resourced,” Mr Searle said

“The lack of proper resourcing has hampered the operation of the IPC, causing some delays. The use of a series of part-time members has led to a perception of variable and inconsistent approaches to decision-making, as well as of a lack of independence from industries the IPC makes decisions about.”

“We agree there should be a smaller group of commissioners, but believe they should largely be full time rather than part time. The Review is silent on this.”

“While we agree that commissioners should have strong decision-making skills, this should not mean that there should be no commissioners with subject-matter expertise. Given the kinds of decisions the IPC makes, a mixture of specialist technical skills, together with legal and decision-making capabilities, would lead to the best outcomes.”

Mr Searle has also raised fears that some measures would undermine the IPC’s independence when deciding complex and often controversial planning proposals.

“My concern is it could compromise a proper evaluation of proposals like the Narrabri gas project.”

“The recommendation for the Minister to set objectives for the IPC and to hold it accountable could also seriously undermine its independence and integrity.”

“The Labor Opposition welcomes and supports the primary findings of the Review, that the IPC strengthens the planning system by minimising the risk of corruption or undue political influence and should be retained. However, we are very concerned that other recommendations – far from strengthening the independence of the IPC – will in fact undermine the integrity of its decision making” — Adam Searle MLC 

“Labor is very concerned about recommendations that would limit the scope of the IPC to make the full range of decisions it presently makes, or limits the advice and information it can obtain in order to make those decisions. This would compromise the independence and integrity of the IPC’s decision making and risk making it a rubber stamp for the department.

“The limitation on holding public hearings is also problematic. The number of hearings required should be left to commissioners to determine, case by case. Otherwise the community may feel that proposals will not receive proper scrutiny.

“We will be carefully watching how the Berejiklian Government goes about implementing these recommendations,” Mr Searle said.

In The Media

Australian Community Media – 1 February 2020 – Petition power less in NSW planning revamp

Sydney Morning Herald – 1 February 2020 – Independent Planning Commission to be final arbiter only on state’s most contentious projects