The release last week of the Harper Review into National Competition Policy has once again put the spotlight on planning, one of the most important and contentious areas of local government responsibility. In particular, the Review highlighted planning and zoning as one of three priority areas for regulation review, with an emphasis on increasing competition and improving productivity.
When the Harper Inquiry invited submissions on key issues, it received a wide range of views on planning for matters such as retail competition, aged care accommodation and alcohol trading restrictions. Submissions came from councils, local government associations, peak industry bodies, individuals, businesses and residents groups. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of conflicting views put to the Review and for me it highlights just how difficult it is for councils to balance the competing interests and conflicting objectives inherent in our planning systems.
It was no surprise to see the Review acknowledge the large number of planning inquiries and reviews which have been undertaken in all jurisdictions and the difficulty and delay in implementing the outcomes of those reviews.
There is room for reform of course, as the submission from the Western Australian Local Government Association noted, local governments would agree that "excessive and complex" zoning should be minimised to provide greater clarity for the community. The suggestion from the Review that there may be scope for collaboration across jurisdictions to look at best practice guidelines which could be adapted to local considerations is also worth pursuing. While the Review suggests that a new Australian Council for Competition Policy would be an appropriate vehicle to oversee progress, I am firmly of the view that this is one of a number of matters, along with environmental, fiscal sustainability and federation and taxation reform issues, which underline the need for a meeting of local government and planning ministers to be convened by the Federal Government; a move which ALGA would support and contribute to.