The State’s planning appeals system advances Government accountability and is a transparent decision-making process, according to the Freedom of Information Commissioner, Ms Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy.
In a recent decision letter, Ms Keighley-Gerardy said disclosures by Planning Minister Graham Kierath under the FOI Act had improved the planning appeal system in Western Australia.
Responding to an FOI application by Opposition planning spokesperson Alannah McTiernan, Ms Keighley-Gerardy said the Minister had received more than 50 FOI applications on planning appeals in the past three years.
Ms Keighley-Gerardy said last year the Minister received 19 FOI applications, 15 in 1999 and 17 in 1998, for which applicants were given full or edited access to documents on all but one occasion, when the request was refused.
“It seems to me that the current approach of the Minister in dealing with such requests for access accords with the spirit and intent of the FOI Act and advances the public interest in Government accountability through transparency of the decision-making process,” Ms Keighley-Gerardy stated.
“In my opinion the operation of the present Ministerial appeal system is a vast improvement.
“Clearly, in my view, disclosures under the FOI Act have improved rather than detracted from the town planning appeal system.”
Mr Kierath said he had endeavoured to make the planning appeal system open and accountable to the community but believed more could be done.
He said the Coalition already had legislation drafted to make the process even more accessible and remove the Minister’s role in the process by introducing a planning appeals panel.
“The Opposition has decided to pinch our ideas for their policy but put the panel in a legal arena which cost people time in delays and money in legal fees,” Mr Kierath said.
“Our legislation is a fairer system which does not require people to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to lawyers to participate.
“The appeals system should not just be for the rich who can afford the best legal advice, it should be for everybody and that is what the Government is proposing while the Opposition wants exactly the opposite.
“Our proposed system looks after the battlers, the Opposition’s system looks after the lawyers.”
Mr Kierath said the determination of appeals relied on the correct application of the relevant Town Planning Scheme.
“Upholding an appeal is, most of the time, a ruling on legal principle,” he said.
“It is a not personal preference of the Minister, as many critics would have people believe.
“It is a means of ensuring that what councils are deciding is within the rules that they themselves set down. In effect it helps protect the rights of residents.”
Media contact: Zac Donovan (08) 9213 6400