Environmental Planning And Water Legislation Amendment Bill
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND WATER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 6 June.
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [12.10]: I lead for
the Opposition in this debate and indicate at the outset that the Opposition parties will support the legislation. The Opposition not only supports the principles involved in the legislation, but also believes there are cogent arguments as to why the principles embodied here ought to be extended to include all designated developments. In essence, the legislation involves amendment of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Water Act to enable major projects, which are subject to a commission of inquiry and which involve a water licence under part 2 of the Water Act, to be considered within the framework of the commission of inquiry. The sad fact of the matter is that the planning situation has evolved to a stage at which it is possible for the same major proposal involving a water licence to go through three separate jurisdictions, the same issues being heard in those three jurisdictions.
As the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning rightly said in the previous debate in relation to Bengalla, it is high time that we legislators put our heads together to ensure that we streamline the process and provide an opportunity for the merits of the case to be debated, when possible, in one forum, at the same time providing an opportunity for people who object to such developments to be heard in an appropriate forum. We should minimise the opportunities for people who seek to frustrate the proponent in some way to delay the process using the mechanisms currently available through various Acts. I view this legislation as an important part of that process. It is important to recognise that this legislation in no way removes the obligation on the proponent to obtain a water licence when significant water issues are involved under part 2 of the Act. The consent authority for the water licence will remain the ministerial corporation.
All the issues can be addressed under the commission of inquiry process. That information will go from the commission of inquiry across to the ministerial corporation for determination and the corporation will be free to determine the water licence as it sees fit. In no way is there an attempt to escape the requirements of the Water Act for a water licence to be issued if appropriate. The Opposition believes that this is good legislation which seeks to streamline the planning process, eliminate duplication and provide employment in major developments. Honourable members are aware that the catalyst for the legislation is essentially the Cadia project near Orange. That is a significant project involving $420 million, which will provide at least 300 direct jobs for people in country New South Wales with beneficial indirect flow-on effects. In addition to the legislation being helpful to the process with regard to Cadia's particular problem, it is good in principle and we, as legislators, should not feel that we are doing something special for one proponent in the community which we would not be prepared to do for everyone.
The legislation will eliminate a third-party appeal right under the Water Act, and I believe we need to be up-front about that. The legislation also provides that those who object to a development which is before a commission of inquiry - as Cadia has been - and which also requires a water licence, can address all water licence objection issues within the commission of inquiry. No member from either side of politics has seriously questioned the integrity of those who preside over the commissions of inquiry. Those who have a legitimate objection in relation to a water issue - particularly in this case, because the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry have been extended to include water issues - have no reason to think that they would not be heard in a public forum. A commission of inquiry is a public forum wherein people who have objections will be able to put their case, and I feel quite relaxed about that aspect.
The Opposition believes that the principles espoused in this legislation may well be extended to designated developments wherever they appear under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, because one of the benefits of a designated development, so far as objectors are concerned, is that it guarantees third-party appeal rights and a mandatory environmental impact statement. It seems to me that if we were to extend the principle we would not take away the third-party appeal rights in this legislation because we are dealing only with commissions of inquiry, to which a third-party appeal right does not exist; the Minister's decision is final. Those who have objection to that part of the legislation will be able to object, as they can in respect of a designated development, and that objection could be heard. They would lose their right to object under the Water Act but still have a right to object under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of the honourable member for Hawkesbury. I understand that he was around at the time of the drafting of the original Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and he has made a significant contribution over the years to amendments to that Act. I acknowledge his assistance to the Opposition in its attempts to formulate amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and to the Water Act. The amendments would broaden the focus to include all designated developments. The Opposition has taken proposals to the Government via the Director of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, who has undertaken to examine them in a constructive light. The Government can be assured that if it keeps bringing forward proposals which stimulate investment and employment in this State and which also genuinely address environmental issues, it will have the continued support of the Opposition. In conclusion, I agree with the comments made by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning earlier today in debate on the Bengalla matter to the effect that planning legislation today has more to do with a convoluted
process than it has to do with outcomes. How right he is. I look forward to the proposals that he will bring forward as a result of the green paper he mentioned. I trust that a measure of goodwill and constructiveness can be evident in the assessment of those proposals, so that this House produces planning legislation which is less convoluted and more outcomes-oriented. I commend the Government for bringing forward this legislation, which the Opposition supports.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [12.18]: The bill gives me the opportunity as Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning to discuss a number of the regulatory aspects of land use, planning and natural resource approvals policy for this State. The Minister's second reading speech noted that the bill addresses inconsistencies in the current legislation regarding the need to hold local land board inquiries and appeals from decisions of those boards when a commission of inquiry has thoroughly assessed a given proposal. In simple terms, the present raft of regulatory arrangements create a duplication of process without adding to the quality of the outcome of any given environmental assessment. The bill proposes that when a commission of inquiry has been directed to hold an inquiry into a proposed development by me as Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and when a licence under part 2 of the Water Act is required by the proponent for the development, the commission of inquiry is to report to the Water Administration Corporation on the licensing aspects.
This means that the assessment of a proposed development from both the general inquiry provisions undertaken by the commissions of inquiry and the specific water licensing requirements under the Water Act will be rolled into one. In effect, applicants requiring such approvals will be given greater certainty and consistency without losing the integrity or rigour of the environmental assessment process. It is entirely appropriate for the Government to pursue this bill at this time. As I indicated in an earlier debate, last week I released a green paper entitled, "Towards an Integrated Land Use, Planning and Natural Resource Approvals Policy for New South Wales." The green paper provides a framework for fundamental reform of approvals policy in this State with the objective of streamlining processes but, at the same time, ensuring the application of rigorous environmental standards and outcomes.
We have all identified the problems and the cost to business of duplicated systems and multiple approval requirements, frequently conflicting processes, lack of certainty, and the lack of coordination and flexibility in the regulatory system as it applies to land use, planning and natural resource approvals. Indeed, the Industry Commission has assessed the cost of unnecessary regulation in this approvals area as adding more than $750 million to the cost of business on a national basis. For example, in the planning and land use approval system alone there are now at least 104 statutes and 45 sets of regulations to be negotiated, not to mention the hundreds of local environmental plans, development control plans and local codes administered by local government. In addition to all the problems I have mentioned with duplication and lack of certainty, this labyrinth of legislation creates a more fundamental weakness in our system, particularly for business and those seeking to invest in the State, that is, the important question of accountability and responsibility.
The fact that there are two Ministers in the Chamber with essentially equal jurisdiction over this bill is a classic example of the problems identified in my green paper. The fact that applicants proposing major investment in this State are now more than likely required to deal with at least five ministries is a clear indication that the system needs to change. No doubt each ministry linked to the approvals process would argue a legitimate role in the process of assessment. Each one is a stakeholder, but at the end of the day no-one really is accountable; no one agency really is responsible; no-one really is in charge of getting on with business for fear of treading on someone else's turf. Is it any wonder that applicants who have to deal with these processes, which have grown like topsy over decades of regulatory accretion, complain about red tape and frustration - having to deal with governments apparently more concerned about internal processes than about achieving high-quality outcomes.
The green paper foreshadows changes to the planning, land use and natural resource planning systems that are germane to this bill. They create simpler and more cost-effective ways of regulating environmental planning laws across portfolios. In brief, the Government's proposals include combining development approvals required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act with licences, permits and approvals created under other legislation; creating integrated approvals agreements, which will consolidate all conditions that might apply under each approval into one agreement involving all regulators; establishing an integrated approvals system using the commission of inquiry process for projects of State significance; the opportunity to appoint special brokers who will be responsible for mediating and reconciling proposed conditions of approval between numerous government agencies; and, finally, establishing an enhanced role for the Director of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning to enable the director to resolve disputes between approval agencies about conditions attached to any integrated approvals agreement.
This means, of course, that the Director of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning will be empowered to decide the issue when there is irreconcilable conflict. In simple terms, our proposals mean cutting through enormous amounts of red tape, providing certainty and creating a more
vigorous environment for jobs and growth. I said earlier and I stress again that this proposal is not about reducing the integrity or rigour of the environmental assessment process. But the Government's proposals will add certainty and consistency with the overall objective of dealing with applications once only to encourage investment and business in this State. It comes as no surprise that the proposals set out in the green paper have been well regarded by business and industry. They acknowledge that greater efficiency in the regulatory systems is not only good for business, but, importantly, there is also an improvement in our ability to achieve strong and consistent environmental protection objectives.
By establishing holistic environmental regulation - a whole-of-government approach - better outcomes are more likely to be achieved on the environment than the current fragmented system that has been in force for many decades. Clearly, an integrated approval system will pool expertise and identify the highest environmental risks at the earliest possible stage. The bill has been drafted as a direct consequence of an antiquated and cumbersome approvals system - a system more concerned with processes and protecting departmental turf than with producing high quality environmental outcomes. Clearly, until such time as more fundamental reform is achieved - reform similar to that proposed in my green paper - Parliament will be asked to consider legislation such as this every time such conflicts in processes and delays in assessments occur. Why should an applicant - indeed, why should a third-party objector to a proposal - be forced to undergo a commission of inquiry process and be required to repeat the process through a further hearing?
Inevitably the same detail will be provided by way of evidence; the same supporting case will be argued; the same objections will be raised and, if there is consistency in decision making, the outcomes of both processes will be identical. So all that would have been achieved is additional cost, additional delays, additional uncertainty without adding one iota of value to the quality of the environmental assessment of the proposal. It is entirely appropriate for the Government to bring the processes of assessment contained in this bill together. Equally, it is appropriate that the same provisions relating to appeal considerations remain consistent with the existing commission of inquiry process. By requiring the commission of inquiry to report on the licensing aspects required under part 2 of the Water Act to the Water Administration Corporation the Government is achieving a consistent and streamlined outcome with no reduction in environmental standards and quality. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ROZZOLI (Hawkesbury) [12.27]: This legislation touches on one of the most complex areas of government administration. It is complex because it brings in a number of contrasting and conflicting requirements within the community. The genesis of this legislation is in one simple factor, that is, not necessarily being able to perceive future situations to which legislation applies. A number of seemingly anomalous situations exist. This legislation is introduced to correct the narrow anomaly. As has been indicated, it is largely to deal with the Cadia project and is an endeavour to facilitate a situation of otherwise conflicting legislation. However, that is probably a poor basis on which to introduce legislation. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning talked about the need to consolidate the elements of the development process. He referred to the expansion of the role of commissions of inquiry in major developments to bring together or consolidate the development process. That rings a number of warning bells for me. One reason the commission of inquiry has worked reasonably well since its inception is that it has been fairly infrequently used. Because of the infrequency of its use and the specific nature of applications, and because of the integrity of the commissioners who have been appointed over the years, it has achieved a fairly high level of success. That is not to say that that level of success has been judged by all parties to be successful.
Many decisions of commissions of inquiry have left sections of the community disenchanted with the process of setting aside rights of third-party appeals - in many instances those relating to designated developments that have a specific third-party right of appeal under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. This piecemeal legislation has been introduced to address a particular issue, and I agree that the issue needs to be addressed. However, it is unfortunate that this is yet another piece of legislation coming in over the top of existing legislative framework. Though this bill may simplify issues in this particular case, it will lead to a greater complexity and a minefield through which developers and the community must tread in an endeavour to understand the process.
The Minister has said that the Government is addressing the need to consolidate principles that bear upon the process of development applications. The Opposition puts the Government on notice that it is concerned about the process of consolidation with regard to designated developments. A similar situation can involve an application for a water licence under the Water Act for which there is a third-party right of appeal to the Land and Environment Court for a development that may also be a designated development. The process may be lengthy because the two appeals can be conducted independently of one another. A developer and community members may on two separate occasions go through the appeal process before the same court, although not necessarily before the same judge.
Consolidation is necessary in an endeavour to clarify community understanding of their rights under the process. For example, provision is made for third-party appeal rights against applications for mining leases under the provisions of the Mining
Act as well as under the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Amendments have been made to the Mining Act in an endeavour to bring these two processes together. The requirements of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act appear to be subservient to the provisions of the Mining Act but, nonetheless, they are similar in nature. Legislation is necessary to remedy this anomaly and to stipulate the way in which matters should be addressed.
I would be concerned if the role of commissions of inquiries in major development applications was extended further than is currently the case. Third-party rights of appeal and the opportunity for the community to examine, to its satisfaction, development applications are important and fundamental principles. I have been a member of this Parliament throughout the history of environmental planning legislation. Before 1976 I was chairman of the coalition Government's backbench committee that pioneered this legislation. I was the shadow minister for planning and environment and I led for the Opposition in debate on all core planning legislation. Above all other matters, in the years I have served this Parliament, environmental issues have been my chief interest. Rights of appeal and the right of the community to express its opinion and challenge development are important principles that must be balanced against the need to facilitate major development for economic reasons, job creation, and so on.
Irrespective of which comes out ahead on the day, it must be possible to balance the two elements to, hopefully, achieve the correct result. In many cases a major dichotomy exists between business and community interests. Any legislation that facilitates smooth passage will be applauded and encouraged by development and business interests. There is nothing wrong with that sentiment. I can understand, if the system is made more simple, that support will be given for such a measure. However, one must not ignore the fact that other people in the community have rights and their views must be heard - and since 1979 planning legislation in this State has enshrined that principle.
In certain instances there are rights of third-party appeals. However, under section 123 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act parties may appeal to or approach the court in the event of a possible breach of environmental law. Despite commissions of inquiry and streamlining, that fundamental principle still exists and one must not lose sight of it. Legislation that makes it more difficult for people to pursue a right of appeal should not be introduced.
Consideration should be given to developing a planning mechanism in this State that is more proactive than reactive. This legislation and the measures outlined in the green paper are reactive; the problem will never be solved until the legislation is proactive. Environmental analysis must be undertaken and advanced planning carried out so that there is a matrix for development - and assessment of the development - to which the developer can look when framing a particular application. Traditionally in New South Wales applicants have appeared before a council or an agency and their applications are combed through - or reacted to - to ascertain their viability. It is to the credit of the community at large that it has played the part of watchdog in relation to many developments that would have been disastrous for the State in the long term if approved. Any process that takes away those rights will be to the detriment of the people of New South Wales.
New South Wales has never had a statewide plan in this regard, so this will be the first time that planning statewide will be addressed satisfactorily. Very little regional planning has been undertaken either. Our only contribution to regional planning is the city of Sydney and its environs, and even that has not been particularly successful. A statewide framework for planning is essential to establish a matrix under which development can be pre-assessed, rather than assessed, after applications are submitted. I am concerned about the lack of specific time frames in the bill and the use of such words as "sufficient time". Proposed new section 120A(4) may be a source of argument as to the definition of sufficiency of time. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to set some time limits. [Extension of time agreed to.]
The bill provides that it is not impossible to fix a time frame to enable the applicant or proponent to make an application for a water licence under section 10 of the Act. That is not an indeterminate period of time. There could well be a reasonable time period inserted to allow the process to be secured more satisfactorily than is currently the case. If the process is to be specific and streamlined, time frames will have to be set to let people know what their obligations are. Schedule 2, which will amend the Water Act - and I did not realise this until I read the detail of the bill - does not seem to cover situations in which a water licence application is made when a development is not a designated development. A water licence application may be submitted and the process commenced, and some time later the Government of the day may determine that the application should be referred to a commission of inquiry. The process does not provide for setting aside the water licence application if it were submitted before the establishment of the commission of inquiry. Therefore, I imagine that the third-party appeal rights that attach to that water application will continue.
I have been working with Parliamentary Counsel on amending legislation that the Opposition may introduce to catch both sides of the process, that is, cases in which the water licence application was the first application on foot and cases in which the development application was the first application on foot. The process needs to be tidied up in this bill so that the rights of people are clarified. A
curious aspect of the bill is that if a ministerial corporation refuses to grant a water licence, despite a commission of inquiry recommending to the Minister that approval should be given, the application will fail because the ministerial corporation decision is final; there is no provision for appeal against ministerial corporation decisions. The ministerial corporation may take into account the report of the commission of inquiry but it is not bound by that report. Honourable members should remember that the reason for this bill is lack of foresight in terms of how such situations may develop.
It is hard to imagine a situation in which the ministerial corporation, despite all the material before it, refuses an application on the basis of its belief that the granting of a water licence would be in the interests of those whom it represents. That may defeat the purpose of the whole application, for which an expensive and long-ranging commission of inquiry has been established. That aspect must be considered. Not only will the application fail; the applicant will have no right of appeal against the decision of the ministerial corporation. If the ministerial corporation refuses to grant a water licence application, a right of appeal should exist because it is not the intention of the legislation that an application should fail on that basis. It is simply not good enough to say that obviously the ministerial corporation will grant a water licence; if it is that obvious, clear-cut and definite, why bother referring the matter to the ministerial corporation for a decision in the first place? The application should be determined by a commission of inquiry, and the ministerial corporation should be kept out of the process.
The principles of the bill are basically sound. Although the bill may create a few problems, its provisions certainly will not affect the Cadia development. If that is the main purpose of the development, I am happy to support the bill. However, it is necessary to examine the complexities that arise from such legislative frameworks. The Parliament and the community must consider these matters in detail. Any process by which there may be a designated development with third-party appeals must be brought together with any other process that incorporates third-party appeals. If business and the community are to be saved the trauma, heartache, enormous costs and concerns, the process must have clarity. Both the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Mineral Resources have agreed that that is the aim and object of this bill, and for that reason I support it. However, above all else we must always remember that the voice of the broad community must be listened to. Rights of appeal, whether they be third-party rights of appeal or direct rights of appeal, should be set aside only as a last resort and in the rarest instances. Using the commission of inquiry process to determine more than just the occasional development is a bad road to go down.
Ms MACHIN (Port Macquarie) [12.46]: As shadow minister for mineral resources I visited the site of the project that perhaps was the catalyst, although not the absolute reason, for this bill. I join with my colleagues and with members of the Government in supporting the legislation and the concept behind it. The Opposition looks forward to working through the broader processes and streamlining the planning laws in New South Wales as they apply to a wide range of projects - mining, forestry and other development projects. The present process is convoluted. A system is neither desirable nor efficient when the Parliament is forced to legislate as it has done in this bill and in the previous bill that was before the House, which dealt with Bengalla coalmine.
The legislation essentially provides for two processes to occur concurrently, rather than an applicant for a major project having to proceed through a planning commission of inquiry to obtain approval and so on and then having to obtain the necessary licences under the Water Act. Drawing the processes together is sensible and will achieve efficiency. As has been said, this bill will not remove the right of people to have their say. However, it should be limited to certain major projects in New South Wales. The removal of third-party appeal rights should not be widespread because the community should have its say on certain projects.
Last year, I visited the site of the Cadia project. The Minister for Mineral Resources also visited the site. The Cadia project is the biggest mining project on the drawing board in New South Wales. The 1995-96 annual report of the Department of Mineral Resources shows that the project represents an investment of $400 million - the company is quoting a figure of $420 million - and the prospect of employment for 250 people, mostly in the central west district of Orange and Blayney. The region is excited about the potential for exploring a range of minerals in the central west part of New South Wales. The project has been kicked along by the Discovery 2000 project, which was introduced by the coalition Government and has been continued by this Government. That interesting project will benefit from the streamlined procedures that this bill will provide.
This legislation is important because of the time constraint placed on the project. As was the case with the Bengalla coal mine, Newcrest Mining Limited, the company involved in the Cadia project, must have all its approvals and permits in place by the middle of this year. I understand there is a window of opportunity with some Japanese smelters, but if Cadia cannot confirm its ability to supply and meet those contracts beyond August of this year that window of opportunity will close. I am sure honourable members would not like to see a project of such magnitude slip out of the State for want of a delay. This is not an attempt by a company to get around the necessary processes. Rather, the company would like the commission of
inquiry reconvened to enable it to hear the water issues. Assuming the company meets the legislative requirements, and I do not think anyone is taking it for granted that the legislation will necessarily guarantee approval, it hopes to fulfil its contracts. It is an exciting project and this is good legislation.
Some of my colleagues have suggested similar amendments to try to extend this approach to other projects without taking away third-party appeal rights. I urge the Government to take those suggestions on board either on an individual Minister basis or as part of a review of the planning legislation. It is critical to address these issues. The mining industry is not the only industry to raise concerns about lack of certainty with regard to the process. Having complied with what players in the industry regard as the necessary processes, quite often they find that someone with money to litigate lodges an appeal and they are forced into various other processes.
As the Minister for Land and Water Conservation said, it is important that there be a degree of certainty so that people and investors in New South Wales know what the ground rules are, and that if they comply with those ground rules it is likely that their project will proceed. The Opposition supports this sensible move by the Government. I look forward to the commencement of the Cadia project, assuming it obtains the necessary approvals, and the resultant injection of jobs and investment in this State.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [12.52]: My colleagues the Minister for Land and Water Conservation and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning have done an excellent job putting together legislation that will protect the rights of individuals. I concur with the comments of the honourable member for Hawkesbury, that the Parliament has a responsibility to protect the rights of individuals. This legislation will not bring about a diminution of people's rights; they will still be able to put a case at common law. This bill is being compared with landmark water legislation that was introduced in 1912, which was overlaid by 1979 legislation on environmental planning laws. How the world has changed in 67 years! Although it is important that legislation be put in place to protect the rights of people, honourable members should realise that 1996 is a long way from 1912. As the honourable member for Hawkesbury said, there is a likelihood that such issues are heard in the same court by the same judge.
This legislation will provide an opportunity to compress but not diminish the process and avoid a situation of double jeopardy. The process must be streamlined. As the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning said, 104 statutes and 45 sets of regulations are involved. The legislation is about outcomes, investment, jobs and the protection of people's rights. It will provide an opportunity to deal seriously with problems, have them investigated and at the same time cut out vexatious or deliberate attempts to delay or frustrate investment. Certain parties in this State have used different aspects of the law to deliberately frustrate investment in the hope that other proponents will withdraw.
The bill will prevent breaches of environmental law. It seeks to bring together the processes. At present companies must, first, apply to local government bodies or seek commissions of inquiry and, second, apply for a licence under the provisions of the Water Act only to be faced with the possibility of an appeals process. As the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning said, the Bengalla issue has dragged on for more than three years through a process that should not have taken longer than 12 months. The Government is fair dinkum about putting in place a process that will address the issues raised in the green paper. It is about getting on with the job of creating wealth and employment while at the same time protecting the environment and people's rights.
Mr YEADON (Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [12.56], in reply: I thank the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, the Minister for Mineral Resources, the honourable member for Ballina, the honourable member for Hawkesbury and the honourable member for Port Macquarie for their contributions. I acknowledge and accept the support of the Opposition for the amendments that are being sought to the Water Act and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The honourable member for Ballina said he felt all designated developments should be picked up, as it were, under this process and should not have to be dealt with under the provisions of part 2 of the Water Act. For his information, this bill will enable both designated and non-designated developments to be dealt with. However, if a commission of inquiry were not in place, as would be the case under the provisions of the Water Act, the right to have the matter heard by the land board or to appeal to the Land and Environment Court would be removed. That would be inappropriate. A choice is provided to either pursue a commission of inquiry or pick up the present provisions under the Water Act.
Under section 101 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act if a development has State or regional significance it is automatically picked up with a commission of inquiry. Application can be made to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning for a commission of inquiry in other instances. I agree with the honourable member for Ballina, that arguments and objections heard in the one forum is a much more efficient process than the present system, in which a commission of inquiry is conducted and the applicant is obliged to go through a number of processes to apply for a water licence.
The applicant is obliged to obtain a licence
from the ministerial corporation, but the corporation would be better appraised of the issues relating to a particular development if a commission of inquiry is conducted. Under these provisions the corporation will be required to take into account the findings and recommendations of the commission of inquiry, which would conduct a far more comprehensive investigation than is achieved at present by land board hearings. Commissions of inquiry will replace local land boards. Of course, this process will remove the ability for parties of appeal to the Land and Environment Court, but the front-end process is far more comprehensive and efficient. The position will be made clear for those making applications and, of course, those who wish to object to any aspect of the application.
The honourable member for Hawkesbury said that this was piecemeal legislation coming over the top of ad hoc arrangements under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Water Act in a reactive process in relation to the proposed development at Cadia. There is no denying that the Cadia development will be dealt with under the amendments but I make it clear to the honourable member for Hawkesbury and other honourable members that the proposed changes will be available to all applicants. The bill is not simply a response to the proposed Newcrest mine at Cadia. The Government recognises that the present procedure is inefficient, duplicative and too convoluted for applicants and it has acted to amend the legislation. I agree with the honourable member for Ballina that the legislation is good in principle and will have general application.
Many other matters are to be dealt with in relation to planning and water. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning referred in his green paper to the planning process. I have quite a job ahead of me as Minister in dealing with water-related matters. At present the administration of issues related to water is dealt with under about 50 Acts in New South Wales. It is very much a dog's breakfast. It will be a big job to rationalise and clarify water legislation. It may take time but the Government will complete the job and do it right. However, that is no reason not to proceed with the amendments the House is currently considering to address clearly identified problems.
The honourable member for Hawkesbury had concerns about time frames. The Government does not want to be overly prescriptive and to inhibit proper investigation of matters. Because of the differences in developments each one should be examined on its merits. Therefore, it is inappropriate to have rigid time lines which could cause investigations to be shortened and issues to be dealt with inadequately. So the legislation provides for reasonable and sufficient time. The honourable member for Hawkesbury also raised the question of what would happen if a water licence were issued under an application prior to completion of the COI process. If a licence were issued, the existing provisions of the Water Act would apply. For example, a commission of inquiry is under way in relation to the Newcrest development at Cadia and issuance of a water licence will not occur until results of the investigation are known to the ministerial corporation.
One of the problems with the present procedures is that they are not concurrent or even parallel; they are duplicative but sequential. So applications have to go through the full COI process before going through the Water Act process. If a water licence was issued, the process would continue under part 2 of the Water Act. Where there is a COI the provisions we are proposing in this legislation would come into play. The right of appeal from the ministerial corporation is another issue raised by the honourable member for Hawkesbury. The ministerial corporation must take account of the findings of the commission of inquiry. So the corporation will not be able to go off on a tangent according to its views, in isolation from what has occurred before the commission of inquiry. It is also not an all or nothing situation: the ministerial corporation may approve a licence with conditions. This flexibility will allow that level of the process to be dealt with effectively.
The provisions in relation to the issuing of a water licence after a commission of inquiry are in line with provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which have existed since the Act was passed. The bill will not remove people's rights but will simply ensure that the process is far more efficient and streamlined. As the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning stated, the rigour of environmental processes will be continued but the proposed amendments will ensure that the issues will be dealt with more efficiently. Therefore, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Clough) left the chair at 1.07 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]